Tuesday, May 30, 2017

We Cannot Stand Alone: Human-caused Fires Call for Human Collaboration


by Jay Stalnacker

Fire management has changed substantially from the days when I was seasonally employed as a smoke jumper. Back then, a lightning storm would move across the open wilderness of the Idaho panhandle dropping flashes of nature’s magic. Sometimes, hundreds of fires would be started from these storms.

Those fires were remote and we called them “the good deal fires.” There were no homes or people to protect; it was just Mother Nature’s beauty. Often we would camp for days, corralling and watching the fire as it spread across the landscape. Fire created a natural disturbance that ensured the ecosystem was in balance.

Today managing fires requires a different approach. As the Wildland Fire Management Officer for Boulder County, I work full-time, all year around. That sea of green is now a complex mixture of homes, infrastructure, and trees. Human encroachment, in many forms, has changed how fires occur and how we deal with them.

Homes back up to forest landscapes. Infrastructure development, such as dams, change the way rivers flow and electrical lines crisscross and dissect the forest. These built features have not only changed how the environment looks; they have also changed the values we associate with natural landscapes. Human disturbance is now the next lightning storm and, unlike the beautiful and momentary flashes of a lightning bolt, our actions will have a much greater duration and impact.

The people, homes, and infrastructure at risk now force us to interrupt the natural and required disturbance of wildfire. Decades of suppression have resulted in a more unhealthy, overgrown, and disease ridden forest. Fire has been removed from the natural equation and the ecosystem is on the verge of being unbalanced.

In Boulder, social and political leaders identified the impacts of human development early enough to limit growth and take steps to reduce urban sprawl. Yet even those forward-thinking efforts weren’t enough—we still face the wildland urban interface (WUI) problems that many other communities struggle with across the nation.

Recently, a 74-acre fire in Sunshine Canyon, west of Boulder, cost nearly $750,000 to fight—nearly $10,000 per acre. The expense of fighting fires in the WUI is steadily increasing and it is unknown how much property or life will be lost before we’re motivated make a change.

One thing that can be done is to collectively address the human impact. Recent research from Earth Lab at the University of Colorado Boulder found that 84 percent of wildfires are human-caused. Arson, unattended campfires, illegal burning, outdoor shooting, downed power lines, train sparks, and other human causes have outpaced natural sources of wildfire. It’s these incidents—both accidental and purposeful—are now becoming overwhelming ignition sources.

In Boulder, we face the ever-growing development of our WUI, as well as an another emerging challenge—homelessness. After the financial crisis of 2008 and the subsequent housing market crash, homelessness has become an increasing issue. Studies indicate this vulnerable population is steadily increasing in many Western communities, most likely thanks to a temperate climate, generous population, and strong economy. Affluent communities like Boulder are also more attractive because they offer access to resources like shelters, free transportation, and food and clothing.

The homeless sometimes choose to relocate into nearby forested areas. In some cases—outside of Nederland, Colorado, for instance—entire small communities have been established as wilderness camps. These remote communities don’t have formal laws or regulations, so even with the best intentions of a peaceful existence there can be the potential for criminal activity, health issues, and reckless or careless behavior.

The 2016 Cold Springs Fire near Nederland was caused by the carelessness of traveling campers from Alabama. Eight homes were lost and hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent fighting it. Even more eye-opening, however, is the cultural change that occurred in the nearby community.

Before the fire, Nederland residents accepted the Boulder transient population and took pride in their uniquely welcoming culture. After the fire, though, many were angry, confused, and wanted answers. Numerous community meetings were held and groups on both sides of the homeless issue had heated conversations on social media and in public forums. The situation escalated to a point where an unfortunate outcome was nearly assured until, luckily, a solution was found.

The Nederland Area Interagency Council on Homeless Encampments (NICHE) formed in response to the ever-growing tension. NICHE members included federal, state, county and municipal governments along with private citizens, business owners, nonprofits, religious groups, and congressional representatives. The group met regularly and soon partnered with neighboring cities facing the same issue.

Today, the tension in the community has subsided and the homeless community is once again welcome. But now there are boundaries and expectations around “living wild.” Local law enforcement actively patrols remote camping areas and identifies those who need help. They educate on—and, if needed, enforce— rules that limit irresponsible activity. There is a long road ahead, but the future looks better than the past.

In my mind, NICHE is an example of how we will fight wildfires in the future. It will take all of the stakeholders coming to the table to find the best solutions. Not one fire agency will be able to fight these mega-fires of the future, nor will we be able to solve the problems associated with rising economic inequality and homelessness.

As such, partnerships and collaboration offer a path forward for fire managers. Multi-objective fire management, increased prescribed-fire use, partnerships with local groups, and homeowners taking a bigger role in mitigating risk must be what the future holds.

It’s a simple answer. None of us can stand alone. Together we can change the unwanted outcomes that alone may feel inevitable.

Jay Stalnacker is a regular contributor to this blog. Adapted and reprinted with permission by Jay Stalnacker, FMO Boulder County Sheriff's Office, from his April 19, 2017, PreventionWeb blog. All expressions are those of the author.

Monday, May 29, 2017

IGNITE: Remembering Our Fallen on Memorial Day


In memory of many, in honor of all. Thank You Happy Memorial Day [Photo credit: Nicole Oke] (roses on the markers of fallen wildland firefighters)

In memory of many, in honor of all. Thank You
Happy Memorial Day


[Photo credit: Nicole Oke]

Thursday, May 25, 2017

IGNITE: Bring Your Best

Bring your best every day. (Wildland fire engine with sunset in background)

Bring your best every day.

[Photo credit: Alex Galt, USFWS]

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Scott Anderson Honored for Lead by Example Award for Motivation and Vision

Josh Haney congratulating Scott Anderson on his Lead by Example Award

Scott Anderson
BLM Training Specialist (NWCG)
National Interagency Fire Center
Honored for Motivation and Vision

Scott Anderson has been selected as one of the recipients for the 2016 Paul Gleason Lead by Example award. Three individuals and two groups from across the wildland fire service have been chosen to receive this national award.

The award was created by the NWCG Leadership Committee to remember Paul Gleason’s contributions to the wildland fire service. During a career spanning five decades, Paul was a dedicated student of fire, a teacher of fire, and a leader of firefighters. The intent of this award is to recognize individuals or groups who exhibit this same spirit and who exemplify the wildland fire leadership values and principles. Scott's work in support of the Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program has been a demonstration of motivation and vision.

Scott was recognized for his involvement with the Wildland Fire Safety Training Annual Refresher program. Scott's undying commitment to making a difference through thoughtful, meaningful safety content personifies the art of leadership.

Take 5 @ 2 logo - clock at 2 o'clock embedded in a hand
The success of the WFSTAR program is a testament to your courage, strong leadership, and commitment to the safety of the ground firefighter. Scott's fearless vision and incredible creativity reached “outside the box.” Through his example, students of fire have been inspired to go beyond the ordinary and pursue excellence through innovation and creativity. Scott's example will live on for years to come.

Congratulations, Scott, on a job well done!

Paul Gleason Lead by Example award solicitation
Work boots

Monday, May 22, 2017

IGNITE: The True Spirit of Conversation

The true spirit of conversation consists in building on another person's observation, not overturning it. - Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer-Lytton
The true spirit of conversation consists in building on another person's observation, not overturning it. - Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer-Lytton

[Photo credit: Cedar Fire (2016)]

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Diego Mendiola Receives Lead by Example Award for Mentoring and Teamwork



Diego Mendiola holding his Paul Gleason Lead by Example Award for mentoring and teamwork
Diego Mendiola
Hotshot Superintendent
Zigzag Ranger District, USFS
Honored for Mentoring and Teamwork
Diego Mendiola has been selected as one of the recipients for the 2016 Paul Gleason Lead by Example award. Three individuals and two groups from across the wildland fire service have been chosen to receive this national award.

The award was created by the NWCG Leadership Committee to remember Paul Gleason’s contributions to the wildland fire service. During a career spanning five decades, Paul was a dedicated student of fire, a teacher of fire, and a leader of firefighters. The intent of this award is to recognize individuals or groups who exhibit this same spirit and who exemplify the wildland fire leadership values and principles. Diego’s work in support of the Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program has been a demonstration of mentoring and teamwork.

Diego Mendiola award presentation
Diego was recognized for his accomplishments as a valued mentor and team builder. Over the course of 30 years, he created a culture embodying the values of duty, respect, and integrity. With a humble personality and positive leadership style, he showed others what right looks like.

Mentoring and building the team were two of Diego's greatest strengths. His passion for duty and compassion for people surpassed fire and entered the realm of life skills. Diego's legacy will live on through those he led and served.

Congratulations, Diego, on a job well done!

Paul Gleason Lead by Example Award solicitation
Work boots




Thursday, May 11, 2017

IGNITE: Ripple Effects of Leadership

A leader's accomplishments are measured in lifetimes. Our character, decisions, and actions create powerful ripple effects that continue to influence people and organizations long after we are gone. - Leading in the Wildland Fire Service, p. 67 [lightning strike in the desert at dusk]
A leader's accomplishments are measured in lifetimes. Our character, decisions, and actions create powerful ripple effects that continue to influence people and organizations long after we are gone. - Leading in the Wildland Fire Service, p. 67
Share through your spheres of influence.

[Photo credit: Seedskadee and Cokeville Meadows Nation Wildlife Refuge/Tom Koerner]

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Cottrell and Myers Earn Lead by Example Award for Mentoring and Teamwork

Dan Cottrell, Smokejumper Foreman
Debbie Myers, Program Support Assistant
Aerial Fire Depot, Region 1, US Forest Service
Honored for Mentoring and Teamwork

Edmund Ward (who brought Deb and Dan into the Smokejumper program), Bill Miller, Tory Kendrick (Acting Missoula Smokejumper Base Manager receiving the award on behalf of Dan Cottrell, who is on fire assignment in the Southeast), Deb Myers (Currently working with the Anaconda Job Corps program) and Paul Chamberlin (previous Gleason Award recipient from the Northern Rockies)
Dan Cottrell and Debbie Myers have been selected as one of the recipients for the 2016 Paul Gleason Lead by Example award. Three individuals and two groups from across the wildland fire service have been chosen to receive this national award.

Molly and Dan Cottrell
The award was created by the NWCG Leadership Committee to remember Paul Gleason’s contributions to the wildland fire service. During a career spanning five decades, Paul was a dedicated student of fire, a teacher of fire, and a leader of firefighters. The intent of this award is to recognize individuals or groups who exhibit this same spirit and who exemplify the wildland fire leadership values and principles. Dan and Debbie's work in support of the Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program has been a demonstration of mentoring and teamwork.

Dan and Debbie were recognized for theirinvolvement with the Lead Forward Program. Creation of a program to recruit, train, and place well-qualified veteran candidates into the workforce in Region 1 was progressive and has brought about positive organizational change beyond the local level.

The success of the Lead Forward Program is a testament to their courage, strong leadership, and commitment to building the team. Dan and Debbie's vision to integrate veterans into the wildland fire service was an excellent example of mentoring and teamwork and provides an inspiration for years to come. Through their generosity and example, veterans have a sense of purpose and continued service.

Congratulations, Dan and Debbie, on a job well done!

Paul Gleason Lead by Example award solicitation
Work boots

Monday, May 8, 2017

IGNITE: Synergy!

Teamwork requires that everyone's efforts flow in a single direction. - Pat Riley [Wildland firefighters moving a stump; two on each side trying to roll it.]
Teamwork requires that everyone's efforts flow in a single direction. - Pat Riley

Share through your sphere of influence.

[Photo credit: Kari Greer/USFS]

Thursday, May 4, 2017

IGNITE: Leadership is Learning

Leadership is not an expertise. Leadership is a constant education. - Simon Sinek (wildfire in California desert)

Leadership is not an expertise. 
Leadership is a constant education. - Simon Sinek

[Photo credit: Captain Bryan Hoverman, San Bernadino County FD]

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

South Puget Sound Wildland Team Earns Lead by Example Award for Initiative and Innovation

Left to right: Hilary Franz, Washington State Commissioner of Public Lands; Matt Caldwell; Terry Jewell; Kevin Dohnam, previous LBE recipient; Sean Kibbe; Don Melton, SPS Fire District Manager; Bryan Scholz, past LBE recipient; Charley Burns; Brian Looper; Mark Stanford, NWCG Leadership Subcommittee
Left to right: Hilary Franz, Washington State Commissioner of Public Lands; Matt Caldwell; Terry Jewell; Kevin Dohnam, previous LBE recipient; Sean Kibbe; Don Melton, SPS Fire District Manager; Bryan Scholz, past LBE recipient; Charley Burns; Brian Looper; Mark Stanford, NWCG Leadership Subcommittee
South Puget Sound Wildland Team
Washington Department of Natural Resources
South Puget Sound Region
Honored for Initiative and Innovation

The South Puget Sound Wildland Team has been selected as one of the recipients for the 2016 Paul Gleason Lead by Example award. Three individuals and two groups from across the wildland fire service have been chosen to receive this national award.

Monday, May 1, 2017

IGNITE: Doing the Right Things

Efficiency is doing things right effectiveness is doing the right things. - Peter Drucker (thunderstorm with lightning)
Efficiency is doing things right effectiveness is doing the right things. - Peter Drucker
[Photo source: Jupiter Images]