By Whitney Forman-Cook
As fires wreak havoc across the Midwest and Mid-South, NACD and conservation districts are reaching out to help.
One of those conservation districts is Okanogan CD of Washington state. Craig Nelson, the district’s manager, is leading an effort to bring his district’s experience and expertise in wildfire preparation and recovery to other districts in need – particularly those that might not have endured wildfires before.
“We had our own trial by fire in 2014 and 2015,” Nelson told NACD. In 2014, nearly 260,000 acres, including a large portion within the Okanogan CD’s boundaries (the district is quite large at 5,200-square miles), burned in 2014 during the largest ever recorded fire in Washington state history. The following summer, three Type 1 Team level fire complexes consumed just over 500,000 acres more.
“We have worked with many federal, state, and local agencies and two tribes affected by these fires,” Nelson said. “We are not wildfire experts by most standards, but we are heavily experienced in working with large volumes of private landowners who are having to deal with burned land.”
To help other districts, communities, and states, the Okanogan CD put together a comprehensive wildfire tool-kit (available here in DropBox) that includes media release templates; fact sheets and guides for landowners that can be adapted for local use; landowner outreach materials, such as assistance request forms; as well as evaluation tools for local resource professionals. Much of this information was gleaned from other districts and organizations that have wildfire recovery experience, including the Kittitas CD, the Chumstick Wildfire Stewardship Coalition, and NRCS.
These wildfire preparation or recovery resources help a great deal, Nelson noted, but they can’t be a district’s only response to wildfires.
“You really need to check in on the folks who are working at the ground floor,” he cautioned. “It’s stressful work. Conservation district supervisors and staff are compassionate people who get to know the people we work with. The stories they hear from landowners will be scary, horrific, and heart-wrenching at times.”
For more wildfire resources, head to NACD’s Forestry webpage.