Blazing Trails with Fire Planning Collaborative

Locals with sometimes conflicting views on resource and conservation issues have been convening in workshops sponsored by the Fire Learning Network. The sessions have focused on finding areas of common agreement, plans to advance prescribed burning. One diverse group of them included, from left, Alan Dyar, Ron Reed, Max Creasy and Lance Noxon./Photo by Malcolm Terence.

By MALCOLM TERENCE, TRT Contributing Writer

Collaboration, the word, has many meanings but in the on-going conflicts over natural resources like water or timber, it must sometimes sound like the punch line of a not-especially-funny joke.

In some cases it is code for Why-Can’t-Everybody-Agree-With-Me? In others, like the roll-out a few years ago of a timber sale in Orleans, it was a thinly-veiled announcement of an already formulated Forest Service plan.

Despite that, a small crowd from many sides of the conservation and extraction divide have begun a long series of meetings in Orleans and Happy Camp using a new format to see if they can reach agreement on a common threat—wildfire. In other words, collaboration.

The meetings are sponsored by the Fire Learning Network (FLN), a partnership of the Forest Service, several Department of Interior branches and The Nature Conservancy. The attendees include Forest Service personnel, Karuk Tribe representatives, locals including members of the Fire Safe Councils, activist locals who favor increased logging, environmentalists and a few just-plain locals.

The Two Rivers Tribune attended Day 3 of their fourth session last week in Orleans to watch them work together. The room at the Panamnik Building was filled with seven large round tables, each covered with large printed flow charts with multi-colored boxes labeled words like Strategy, Outcome and Goal. Lines with directional arrows connected many of the boxes. Other large charts were taped to the walls, reflecting work from the previous days.

Mary Huffman, the FLN facilitator, provided instructions for that day’s tasks. Groups of four would go to each table and revise or otherwise improve the chains. Will Harling, executive director of Mid Klamath Watershed Council, and Bill

Tripp, Eco-Cultural Restoration Specialist of the Karuk Tribe, were assigned to making sure each group was diverse, that is, not all Forest Service or not all of any one point of view.

One of the attendees was Gary Hughes, executive director of EPIC, the environmental group that has opposed many logging proposals over the years including some that were ostensibly designed to reduce the threat of wildfire.

“It doesn’t mean the Klamath National Forest won’t come up with a controversial project outside of this circle,” he cautioned, but said his group supported the direction of the FLN and the way they seek zones of agreement.

Harling said that proposed projects, including timber harvest, can’t impact any other values identified by the collaborative group.

“Logging by itself has been shown by numerous studies to not be effective as a stand-alone treatment to reduce the threat of wildfires,” Harling said. “But logging is one of many tools that we need to use in order to accomplish fuels treatment strategies that allow for the reintroduction of prescribed fire and unplanned ignitions at the right time of year. If activity fuels (read logging slash) are cleaned up, ground disturbance is minimized, and re-growth from opening up the canopy is moderated by prescribed fire, then logging can be done without impacting our agreed upon values.”

One of the groups included Alan Dyar, a retired educator from Happy Camp; Ron Reed, a cultural biologist for the Karuk Tribe; Max Creasy, a retired Forest Service ecologist; and Lance Noxon, deputy district ranger from Happy Camp.

They had already agreed on several edits and attached them with colored post-its. In one they had changed the threat of “continue fire suppression,” to the strategy of “allow fire for resource benefit.” To the threat box labeled “Air Quality Restrictions” they added the strategy word “Lessen.” For the problem called “Large Fire Suppression Costs” they added the word “Reduce.”

Dyar, the retired school administrator, has long identified with plans to resume some scale of logging in the area. He said he had hopes that so many people with different values coming together with common goals was good for jobs and community sustainability in the area.

He said only seven of his graduates over the years have been able to get a post-high school degree and return to the community to work. He added, “If not for the (Karuk) Tribe, the majority of those kids wouldn’t have a job.”

Ron Reed, cultural biologist for the Tribe, was at the same table as Dyar. He said the FLN was consensus-driven and “that makes me feel more relaxed when I leave this table.”

Reed had just returned from meetings in Washington, D.C., where he found that policy makers were searching for solutions for the new scale and cost of wildfires. “Climate change is a driving factor now and they want to incorporate our traditional knowledge,” he said.

Cathy Meinert is also from Happy Camp and is a member of the local Fire Safe Council. She gestured around the room at the small groups working around tables and said, “All these people? No one thinks the same. We’re going to find common ground. The (FLN) people are good facilitators. As a tribal member and a community member, to see this happen is a miracle.”

She said the outcomes would get incorporated by the local Fire Safe Councils in their work plans and their requests for funding.

Another planner in the sessions was Dan Blessing, the natural resource officer for the Klamath National Forest. He said the FLN model needed to happen as preface to the next forest plan due in 2016.

“It was different in the past,” Blessing said. “The plan was put together with specialists and then the public was invited to comment. This is unprecedented when it originates from the ground up.”

One faction that was absent from the proceeding was reps of industrial timber, although organizers said that they had been invited. Ric Costales, a former logger and now Natural Resource Policy Specialist for Siskiyou County, would not speculate on why they logging interests didn’t come but said he had attended a session himself.

He said that the collective efforts might lead to more jobs in the county and said, “County to my knowledge has always been in support of prescribed fires as a tool for management and helping restore fire to the landscape.”

Mary Huffman, the FLN facilitator, said there were still three workshop sessions left in the process plus the Klamath Fire Ecology Symposium in Orleans April 15-17. The next round will be in Happy Camp March 17-19. Visitors are welcome.

She said the approach at collaboration on conservation issues between often warring parties is called Open Standards has been used in over a thousand settings around the world in many different landscapes.

The funding comes from the Forest Service, the Department of Interior, the National Forest Foundation and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Lyn Decker, FLN director, said the workshops were brought to the mid-Klamath because local energy suggested readiness for a solution to the ever increasing threat of wildfires.

She said the factors included good local leadership and she especially mentioned Will Harling from MKWC and Bill Tripp, from the Karuk Tribe. Another factor was a high probability that the planning work would happen and that it would receive investment from the Forest Service.

Sidebar: Trex RX

Another branch of the Fire Learning Network, the training exchange called TREX, will return to Orleans this fall in projects to light prescribed burns with 15-25 participants for 10-14 days. Last year TREX crews worked in Orleans and Somes Bar for three days, lighting prescribed fires to protect homes on private lands.

Jeremy Bailey, the Network’s associate director of fire training, said, “The community of Orleans was so welcoming and knowledgeable about fire that I decided we need to come back again and share Orleans with other fire practitioners from around the country. In my mind, Orleans is an shining star of how communities can work together, build grass root initiatives and really deliver on action. I think if we were able to return to Orleans for the next 3-5 years we could burn most of the private land (that so desired) and really protect the community from future wildfires.”

Bailey explained that if the communities were protected from future wildfires then the USFS would have more decision space on how they want to manage wildfires outside of the private development in the summer.

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