Shared Leadership for Wildfire Protection in Teton County

By Katrina Vaitkus

Photo by Florence McCall Photography, Little Horsethief Fire, Jackson, Wyo., 2012

In Teton County, Wyoming, forested lands are a major part of the landscape. In 1988, as the Yellowstone Fires raged in three states, the county realized those devastating fires could happen at home. To work to prevent that, a group of fire managers formed the Teton Area Wildfire Protection Coalition (TAWPC) to support the community in preventing wildland fire.

The coalition has a variety of members, including landowners and foresters, as well as individuals from Grand Teton National Park, Jackson Hole Fire/EMS, Wyoming Game and Fish, Teton Conservation District and more. “People bring a lot of different skill sets and priorities, making it a high functioning group,” said Robb Sgroi, Land Resources Specialist for Teton Conservation District (TCD).

TAWPC’s first task was to collaborate and develop a community wildfire protection plan (CWPP) to identify fire-prone areas and prioritize locations for risk reduction. The first plan was adopted in 2005 and revised in 2014, with another revision on the way. Since developing the first plan, the coalition has continued to work diligently in the community.

“We’ve got a lot of mixed landownership in this area, so it’s wonderful to see that this group works well across authorities,” Sgroi said. “With that mixed ownership, I think this group has been successful in communicating, sharing resources, trying to develop common goals, and supporting each other, so that things could be looked at at a broader scale.”

According to Sgroi, TAWPC has four main goals: (1) provide a source of education to landowners in the county on wildfire risk reduction; (2) provide technical review of wildfire prevention projects that are being proposed; (3) support long-range planning for the community, which is specifically done through review and revision of the CWPP; and (4) seek out funding for projects prioritized in the CWPP.

As part of its education goal, TAWPC helps the district with its Wildfire Risk Reduction Program, which started in 2013 with a Western States Wildland Urban Interface (WSWUI) Grant that TCD received. As part of the program, the district has worked with over 300 landowners to provide a wildfire risk overview, which provides voluntary recommendations for wildfire risk reduction on their lands.

“This program incentivizes risk reduction and provides financial support as well,” Sgroi said. “People can do a lot to control this type of natural disturbance, so it’s great to see people interested in doing the work needed to help prevent loss of life and loss of homes.”

TAWPC further educates local landowners through hosting speakers, film nights, training days and more.

“We’ve got a really well-informed public here,” Sgroi said. “They’re knowledgeable, they’re motivated, and they’re very interested in applying best management practices to their lands. I think with our education and outreach, we can steer them in the right direction by helping them prioritize what they need to do.”

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