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WRSC Newsletter #26 11/24/2014
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The Western Regional Strategy Committee (WRSC) delivers articles and stories each month that demonstrate the collaborative efforts of agencies, organizations and communities supporting and promoting the three goals of the Cohesive Strategy: Restoring Resilient Landscapes, Creating Fire Adapted Communities and Responding to Wildfire. The newsletter is our primary communication tool with our partners and the public. Past issues of the WRSC newsletter are available on our blog. Feel free to contact us with ideas for articles or comments. 

Strategizing to Protect Sage Grouse Habitat

On November 5th- 7th, officials with the Bureau of Land Management, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of the Interior, US Geological Survey, Natural Resources Conservation Service, US Forest Service, academia, state land managers, researchers, non-governmental organizations, land users and others met in Boise to formulate a strategy to protect greater sage grouse in the Great Basin. The effort is consistent with the cohesive wildland fire strategy in that federal and state land managers are working with scientists to craft policy and procedures to beneficially affect the landscape and wildlife in a defined region. The efforts of this group are important to the WRSC and we must coordinate our efforts with theirs. The two greatest threats to the greater sage grouse are wildfire and invasive species.
The welcome to the conference, The Next Steppe: Sage-grouse and Rangeland Wildfire in the Great Basin, states, “Together, science and operations provide a foundation for and the essence of a strategy to interrupt the fire-invasives cycle and begin to restore critical sage-steppe ecosystems and habitat.” The conference featured two days of sharing of information in panel discussions and presentations, and a third day for developing a framework for a comprehensive strategy for moving forward to break the fire-invasives cycle and work toward improved ecosystems and habitat. A potential listing of the greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act is the greatest impetus for collaboration.
A series of follow up actions and events including a report to US Fish and Wildlife Service was a major outcome of a policy meeting at the end of the third day. People were hopeful that work done to protect sage grouse habitat would prove to be enough to avoid a listing.  An editorial in the Idaho Statesman showed support for the conference.
Noreen Walsh, Regional Director of Fish & Wildlife Service in Denver, summed up the meeting, saying, “It was the greater sage grouse that really catalyzed the impetus for this meeting; but I would submit to you that this is really not all just about the greater sage grouse. It’s even more about the 350 or so other species in this ecosystem - the largest almost intact ecosystem in North America - that is trending in the wrong direction. It’s not just about fire; it’s even more about what we do prior to a fire, and what we do to restore after a fire happens. And it's not just about the money; it’s even more about whether we will have the will to tackle this problem together.” Full text of the closing remarks is available here >

Also on November 6th, US Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack awarded the Secretary’s Honor Award for External Partnerships to Pioneers Alliance of Carey, Idaho. The Pioneers Alliance led a local effort to protect more than 65,000 acres of working ranches and core sage grouse habitat near Sun Valley, Idaho. Read more here >. Coordinated efforts like these that work across boundaries are essential to the protection of greater sage grouse habitat. The Western Regional Action Plan supports efforts to protect and restore landscapes under Goal 1, Restore and Maintain Resilient Landscapes.

WRSC Meets and Agrees to Aggressive Implementation Plans    

Members and partners of the WRSC met face-to-face in Boise, Idaho on November 12th and 13th to chart the transition from planning to implementation, and determine goals and objectives as the group moves forward with implementation of the Cohesive Strategy across the West. The US Forest Service, BLM, Inter-tribal Timber Council, state forestry agencies, counties, Fish and Wildlife Service, US Fire Administration, Fire Adapted Communities, NFPA, National Park Service, FEMA, International Association of Fire Chiefs and the science team were represented. The West's transition to implementation is based on the Regional Transition Plan accepted by the Wildland Fire Leadership Council (WFLC) at their October meeting (Regional Transition Plan Executive Summary).
The discussion was lively and open. By the end of the two-day workshop, the WRSC submitted a mission statement to guide implementation activities: "To use existing networks to promote and facilitate Resilient Landscapes, Fire Adapted Communities, and Safe & Effective Wildfire Response across the geographic and political boundaries of the Western landscape."  The group enhanced its organizational structure that now includes a Senior Regional Leadership group to foster the organizational culture and behaviors of the tenets of the Cohesive Strategy across all landscapes in the West. 
The group recognizes that achievement towards resilient landscapes, fire adapted communities, and safe & effective wildfire response is through the work of local and regional collaborative efforts, and that the role and function of the WRSC is to facilitate coordination between agencies and organizations, and spread the message of “working better together” to further common goals. This will include assertive outreach by collaborative partners to promote strategic alignment of organizational goals; enhanced communication and collaborative engagement; and programmatic alignment of agency and organizational objectives, where possible.
Looking ahead to 2015, the WRSC will focus on building a quality Senior Regional Leadership team, and enhancing existing partnerships and identifying new, non-traditional partners to implement specific efforts that lead to achievement of the three goals.  Achieving specific efforts outlined in the Western Regional Action Plan are a top priority. Notes from the meeting will be available soon. Look for them in your email! For more information on the face-to-face workshop, contact Kate Lighthall .

Study Shows Avoided Costs of Wildfires

The "Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project Cost Avoidance Study" estimates the potential damages that will be mitigated by the implementation of the Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project (FWPP). The goal of the FWPP is to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire and post-fire flood impacts by conducting fuel-reduction treatments in two watersheds critical to the City of Flagstaff. Primary risks of wildfire are two-fold: damage from fire and damage from resulting floods. After the Schulz Fire, flooding caused millions of dollars in damages to property in downstream neighborhoods.

The study estimates potential financial damages from a fire that burns with the intensity of the Schulz fire. The impacts are estimated to range between $573 million and $1.2 billion. The citizens of Flagstaff voted to fund the $10 million FWPP in 2012.

The study was prepared by the Arizona Rural Policy Institute, and uses data from the Army Corps of Engineers' "Rio De Flag, Flagstaff Arizona, Economic Reevaluation Report", and the Ecological Restoration Institute's "A Full Cost Accounting of the 2010 Schulz Fire". Read the FWPP Cost Avoidance Study here.

Forest Service Exceeds Restoration Goals

The US Forest Service announced that it has exceeded its FY 2014 forest restoration goals. Projects lessened the threat to communities by reducing hazardous fuels on 1.7 million acres in the wildland urban interface, sustained or restored watershed conditions on 2.9 million acres, and resulted in 2.8 billion board feet of timber volume sold. 

The Forest Service was also successful in leveraging partnerships to help meet its ecological restoration goals. Partners, including conservation groups, forest industry, local communities, sportsmen, and others assisted with monitoring of resource conditions and project implementation as a component of adaptive management. The diverse programs, tools and activities used include: the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLR), Stewardship Contracting Authority, Good Neighbor Authority, and other 2014 Farm Bill provisions. The agency plans to expand use of these authorities in the coming year. 

Exploring the True Costs of Wildfire   

The National Association of Conservation Districts recently published an article called "The (True) Cost of Fighting Wildfire". Ann Walker, the former Western Governors' Association's representative to both WFLC and the WRSC, provided some insight to this article about social costs that don't enter into the calculations of wildfire costs or loss. Ann talks about her experiences working on the Waterman Complex fire in Mitchell, Oregon - a remote town where the average age is 78. At one point, the community was told their access road would be closed for a week, isolating the community. "For some fires, this would seem a small sacrifice, but for these folks it meant a delay in the shipment of the prescription medication they need. That put a whole different spin on the problem." "While we focus solely on protection of lives when putting out the fire, we sometimes lose sight of the long-term effect it can have on daily life", she says.

Ann also talks about the Cohesive Strategy, explaining that it takes a holistic approach to wildland fire management, recognizing the interconnectedness of resilient landscapes, fire-adapted communities, and wildfire response. "There is still so much to do, including implementation of updated performance measures and addressing the National Barriers and Critical Success Factors determined by all three regions. But I believe we're on the right path." Read more here >.

Upcoming Learning Opportunities

December 2 - The How, What and Where of Safety Zones: Recent Findings webinar. Presented by Bret Butler, 1:00-2:00 PM. MST. For more information and to register.

December 2 - A New Approach to Evaluate Forest Structure Restoration Needs Across Oregon and Washington, webinar presented by LANDFIRE and Northwest Fire Science Consortium. TNC Forest Conservation Director Mark Stern with Chris Zanger and Ryan Haugo. For more information and to register, 2:00-3:00 PM MST.

December 15 - Abstracts due for presenters at the 2015 Backyards & Beyond Conference.

January 21, 2015 - Training Exchanges from the Ground Up webinar with Jeremy Bailey and Ben Wheeler hosted by Great Plains Fire Science Exchange. Noon MST. Log in here.

 Stay up-to-date with the WRSC by visiting our web channel! We invite your comments!
Does your agency or community have a project or event you'd like to see featured in the WRSC Newsletter? Tell us about it! Just contact Cheryl Renner.
Tony Harwood
Co-chair (Tribal representative)
Confederated Salsih and Kootenai Tribes
Joe Stutler
Co-Chair (Non-federal representative) 
Deschutes County
Brad Washa
Co-chair (shared Federal representative)
Bureau of Land Management
Denise Blankenship
Co-Chair (shared Federal representative)
US Forest Service
Katie Lighthall
Coordinator, Western Region
Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy 
Cheryl Renner
Communications Support, Western Region
Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy
Copyright © 2014 Western Regional Strategy Committee, All rights reserved.

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