At the recent Northeast Fire Compact Annual Meeting in Maine, Katie Lighthall, coordinator for the Western Region of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Strategy effort, shared a concept that is showing success across the West in stimulating increased action within communities at risk of wildfire. What she shared at a team meeting brings the model east and with the hope that it is more widely adopted. Katie explained that, “most people do not think of the Northeast or the Midwest as the proverbial hot bed of fire activity, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Katie shared that the Learning Lab is a shared learning event tailored to a specific community that brings together all levels of stakeholders in the setting of a previous fire incident. There, they collaboratively learn about the Cohesive Strategy vision of living with wildland fire and what it means to work better together for better fire outcomes.
Katie said that participants are local stakeholders including representatives from US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management offices, state fire and land management agencies, Tribal entities, elected officials, planners, non-governmental organizations and other community leaders and members. Typically, these events are an all-day affair in which stakeholders hear candidly about successes and challenges in how the previous fire was managed or suppressed, vegetation treatments, challenges with evacuation, post-fire impacts, and other hard truths about living with wildland fire. This conversation is achieved in a facilitated, non-judgmental atmosphere. Short presentations are sometimes followed by a field tour during which additional information is shared. Questions and interaction are strongly encouraged.
Katie went onto explain that facilitators ask members of the audience what they’ve learned from the day’s agenda in the context of the goals and vision of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Strategy. She noted that there are many “aha” moments that surface during this part of the event. They provide a perfect lead in to the Learning Lab finale of audience-suggested and ranked recommendations with commitments to move forward by implementing actions that will help improve fire outcomes in that community.
Importantly, she noted that this type of face-to-face engagement at the community and local agency level has proved successful in helping stakeholders understand more about the Cohesive Strategy and what it means to live with wildland fire.
The Northeast Region of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Strategy convened this week in Portland, Maine alongside the Northeast Fire Compact’s Annual Meeting. NFPA representatives routinely participate in these meetings as partners and stakeholders in the overall objectives.
Image: Learning lab in McCall, ID, part of Living with Fire in Valley County, courtesy of Katie Lighthall.