USA During the summer of 2012 the State of Utah faced a particularly active wildland fire season. Fires throughout the State caused considerable damage to resources, infrastructure, and personal property. Following this severe fire season, Governor Gary Herbert charged State land managers with the task of developing a cooperative strategy to reduce the size, intensity and frequency of catastrophic wildfires in Utah
Following the Governors directive, a statewide Steering Committee was convened to help develop the plan, and the Catastrophic Wildfire Reduction Strategy (CatFire) was finalized and presented to the Governor in December 2013. The Utah Division of Forestry, Fire, and State Lands (FFSL) has the responsibility for implementing CatFire, and the statewide Steering Committee is now chaired by the State Forester.
The Steering Committee provides a venue for local, state and federal agencies, along with NGOs and private sector partners, to have constructive dialogue and coordinate project planning, prioritization, and implementation. CatFire has been successful particularly due to the participation and support of Region Four of the US Forest Service (USFS), the Utah State Office of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and State Conservationist. Through Region 4, State and Private Forestry, match funding has been provided for critical staffing needs, without which CatFire could not be successful. As well, NRCS, through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), has provided substantial funding for both administrative support and on-the-ground treatments. The significant contributions of these agencies, along with the participation and support of so many other partners, has allowed the CatFire Strategy to take hold statewide.
Early on, the statewide committee recommended that a significant additional investment be made by the State and affected stakeholders for prevention, preparedness and mitigation activities to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfires. Subsequently the Utah legislature authorized funding for CatFire with approximately $2 million of State funds. This funding allotment represents the first time State funds have been appropriated for wildfire issues not directly related to suppression costs.
The CatFire Steering Committee also established six regional work groups covering the entire state. Each work group consists of local stakeholders representing private, local, state, and federal interests. Efforts are now underway to stand up a web-based wildfire risk assessment portal (based on the west-wide risk assessment) in order to provide an additional science-based tool with which the regional work groups can assess risk and prioritize actions in their respective region. Once decisions have been made at the regional level, the proposed actions are passed to the Steering Committee for statewide prioritization.
This prioritization process, directed from the regional level, is an integral component of the CatFire strategy. The risk assessment and prioritization allows local government, state agencies, federal agencies, and land managers to focus and distribute limited resources as efficiently as possible. The process also provides a scientific platform on which to base justification for specific expenditures. The three interdependent goals of the National Cohesive Strategy (NCS) are at the heart of
CatFire and included in the strategy document:
a. Resilient Landscapes b. Fire Adapted Communities c. Safe and Effective Wildfire Response
To further show its commitment to NCS, during the 2015 legislative session, the Utah Legislature passed Senate Bill 56, which codifies the goals of NCS thusly:
a. Restore and maintain landscapes, ensuring landscapes across the state are resilient to wildfire-related disturbances in accordance with fire management objectives. b. Create fire-adapted communities, ensuring that human populations and infrastructure can withstand a wildfire without loss of life or property. c. Improve wildfire response, ensuring that all political subdivisions can participate in making and implementing safe, effective, and efficient risk-based wildfire management decisions
Utah is proud that the goals of NCS are law and, along with the Catastrophic Wildfire Reduction Strategy, provide clear direction to FFSL and others for how we will cooperatively pursue wildfire risk reduction and suppression in the State.
Reducing the threat of catastrophic wildfire in Utah requires landscape modification of vegetation, reintroduction of managed fire, and substantial action by and within communities. Changes of this magnitude necessitate broad social and political awareness, understanding, and support. Efforts are underway to reach out to communities throughout the State to ensure everyone understands the importance of actively participating in mitigation and response programs, as well as creating and implementing Community Wildfire Preparedness Plans (CWPPs).
Many of the initial projects designated for funding by CatFire were designed to augment existing state and federal cooperator projects. As an example, the Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands project in the Willow Basin area east of Moab in southeast Utah lies directly adjacent to fuels treatments recently completed by the Manti La Sal National Forest. Additionally, a fuel break project in Sanpete County in central Utah was completed using program funds and is the culmination of a nearly five year effort involving the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), numerous home owners associations (HOAs), and the State of Utah.
Utah understands that it is necessary to take a holistic approach to the challenges of wildfire within the State. Without public participation and approval, it will be impossible to create meaningful lasting changes. Without broad cooperation amongst stakeholders, both public and private, resilient landscapes and fire adapted communities cannot be restored or maintained. The State, allied with its many federal agencies and local governments, will maintain an organized wildfire response force, but the effectiveness of that response is contingent on the other tenants of both the NCS and CatFire.
CatFire is the culmination of a collaborative effort that should be emulated for its methodology and efficient process. Starting with an executive mandate from Governor Herbert and codified by a forward-thinking legislature, CatFire uses the proven principles of the NCS to up the ante of how wildland fire should be managed. With concerted effort, and a commitment to a shared vision, all Utahans can contribute to the health of ecosystems that are resilient to the effects of fire, while at the same time, hardening our vulnerable communities against wildfires impact, and providing for the appropriate, professional fire response.