Washington’s Cascadia Conservation District (CCD) is working with landowners and other partners on wildfire recovery efforts to mitigate the after-effects of wildfires.
In December 2018, the conservation district gathered federal, state and local partners to hold a workshop focusing on post-wildfire recovery efforts from August’s Cougar Creek Fire that burned more than 45,000 acres. Fire damage can lead to soil run-off during rainstorms, which can cause flooding and other ground instability.
The area is not unfamiliar with wildfire damage and the after effects, so it took some time for Cascadia Conservation District to grow to include recovery efforts as part of its overall wildfire education.
“We live in a region that’s evolved to have fire as part of the landscape,” CCD Project Coordinator Patrick Haggerty said. “We have a responsibility to live with fire here, so we really focus in on programs that are tailored to helping landowners prepare for and recover from wildfires.”
The wildfire preparedness programs piece began with community wildfire protection planning in 2005 and grew to working with landowners and partners on wildfire preparedness projects throughout the county. Wildfires in 2012 and 2015, though, amped up the conservation district’s awareness of the need for post-wildfire recovery assistance.
In 2012, the Okanogan-Wenatchee fires burned nearly 260,000 acres. The Carlton Complex Fire in 2014 burned 250,000 acres. In 2015, the Sleepy Hollow Complex Fire also took about 40 homes. “It really changed our mindset, and a lot of what we did followed in the footsteps of Okanogan Conservation District, which really stood up after the Carlton Complex fire,” Haggerty said.
According to Haggerty, the district is going through the process of updating the community wildfire protection plans and is looking for ways to continue building a strong coordination capacity for post-fire recovery. They are bringing partners together to help landowners, local fire districts and emergency management understand the risks and available resources as well as the potential to implement projects to reduce risk.
“We’ve realized that post-fire recovery is part of being a fire adapted community,” Haggerty said. “So, we’re trying to learn from other communities by working with neighboring conservation districts, participating in the Washington Fire Adapted Community Learning Network, and recognizing that there is a lot more to recovery that goes beyond the natural resources scope of the district.”
The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) teams assess post-fire conditions to determine soil burn severity. CCD used that information and modeling completed by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to identify landowners who may be affected by post-fire flooding and debris flows following the Cougar Creek Fire. In December, the district reached out to both private and public landowners, like the U.S. Forest Service, in the Entiat watershed area.
“We saw a lot of landowners that were impacted by the fires and didn’t really know what the next steps were to recover their land. The topography and inherently the landowner and what they’re doing on the property informs those next steps, which make this process unique to each landowner,” CCD Program Director Mike Cushman said.
The effort brought together conservation districts, U.S. Forest Service, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) personnel, local fire districts, county public works departments and NRCS. The group educated landowners on how to prepare for new risks in the post-fire environment, including insurance-related issues and recovery treatments for their specific property. Additionally, they connected landowners with program resources to assist in replacing infrastructure, soil erosion controls and property rehabilitation.
“One of the most critical things was offering site visits to any landowner whose land has been affected and providing technical assistance on what best practices landowners could implement to address erosion concerns,” Haggerty said. “Those natural resource concerns ranged from hazardous trees to how to replant forest land as well as species recommendations.”
Part of the conversation may include fire ecology and the likelihood of low-severity burns so the landowners may see vegetation re-establish quicker. Sometimes, the conservation district will encourage landowners not to invest in practices because that particular effort would not be the best for recovery or for prevention.
According to Haggerty, conservation district has encountered some cases where property owners have managed their land so well that the fire burned through the landowner’s section at a lower severity, which decreases the time required for the land to recover.
Cascadia Conservation District is considering holding another workshop this spring. For more information, visit http://cascadiacd.org/wildfire-recovery-resources_351.html.
Tags: Forestry Notes