Upon the invitation of the Oklahoma State Forester - George Giessler, Todd Chlanda and I had the opportunity to attend the Oklahoma Governor’s Wildfire Preparedness Conference in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma this past Monday. The conference was very well supported with over 185 fire and emergency, and town planning professionals from throughout the state in attendance.
The importance of this initiative cannot be understated. Last year, while national media was fixating on the Waldo-Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Oklahoma was dealing with its own quiet crisis. Last year in the state of Oklahoma wildfires destroyed over 680 homes and business structures, with over 114,000 acres of land being burned.
Image 1: Governor Mary Fallin keynote speaker at the Oklahoma Governor's Wildfire Preparedness Conference 05/13/2013.
Mary Fallin the Oklahoma Governor was the keynote speaker and gave an outstanding speech in support of all the work that the emergency management, forestry services and fire departments do. The Governor endorsed the Firewise Communities/USA® recognition program and reinfornced how important community action is when it comes wildfire preparedness and mitigation.
Oklahoma was one of the top performing states last year moving from 28 recognized communities to 41 communities. Jim Reese the Secretary of Agriculture was quick to point out that Oklahoma was 3rd in the nation on a per captita basis when it comes to the number of recognized sites. Moving forward this state performance metric will be documented on an annual basis in the Firewise Communities/USA Executive Summary.
Governor Fallin experienced first-hand the Oklahoman destruction and loss when she visited communities throughout the State last year during the major fire events. One of the cute stories that she shared was the day they adopted a Labrador from the local animal shelter that had been displaced because of the wildfires. When the dog was brought home her three children deliberated on what to call him. The initial suggestion was to call him “Hotdog”. In keeping with the family sentiment, the Governor being the good politician she is, was able to persuade the family to choose the more congenial name “Burnie” for the new family member.
On a more serious note, it was interesting to learn from Steven Glasgow (State Resource Conservationist) how the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRSC) is beginning to realize that they too have a big role to play in the National Wildland Fire Management Cohesive Strategy for wildfire in Oklahoma. Oklahoma has 44 million acres of land that has a fire-based ecology. Steven highlighted the important role that private landowners, especially agricultural and private woodlot landowners could play in mitigating the wildfire risk not only on their landholdings but their adjoining neighbors who often times could be a residential community. He went on to state that wildland fire mitigation is a very important consideration that is often neglected by landowners with dire economic and ecological consequences. The NRSC administers many financial incentive program opportunities for private landowners. One of the notable NRCS financial incentives programs that allow for natural resource planning and fuel mitigation is the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). This program allows for adjoining private landowners to mitigate their properties and has proven especially helpful when these properties abut residential communities.