National Fire Plan & Healthy Forests Restoration Act
In 2001, Congress approved funds for federal and state agencies and local communities to better plan and prepare for future wildfire seasons. The result of that planning and preparation is commonly known as the "National Fire Plan." The goals of the National Fire Plan are to ensure sufficient firefighting resources for the future, to rehabilitate and restore fire-damaged ecosystems, to reduce fuels (combustible forest materials) in forests and rangelands at risk, especially near communities, and to work with local residents to reduce fire risk and to improve fire protection.
This planning effort applies both to counties and tribes as ignitable wildland fuels can lead to large wildfire events. Planning efforts involve identifying where ignitions are most likely (from all sources) and the condition of natural fire regimes, fire regime condition class, and fire prone landscapes. These risk factors are combined with the location of people, structures, infrastructure, unique ecosystems, and culturally significant sites.
Part of the National Fire Plan was to recognize the need to identify the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) as a tool to understanding where people and structures are located in reference to wildland fuels. It becomes an identification instrument for tribes, counties, states, and federal agencies to use when considering where to prioritize wildfire mitigation measures. Succinctly worded, implementation would favor treating areas where there is a combination of homes located in an area of wildfire risk, and where mitigation measures have a high probability of reducing lives lost or homes destroyed. The federal legislation placed the identification of the WUI as the responsibility of the local jurisdiction (Tribe or County). The federal agencies (US Forest Service, US Bureau of Land Management, US Bureau of Indian Affairs, etc.) are required to administer their programs in response to the local jurisdiction’s WUI description.
Dr. William Schlosser, of Kamiak Environmental, has developed the process of using the location of structures within a jurisdiction to create a physical basis of the development of the WUI. He uses a GIS application to create the distribution of these areas within the categories of Interface, Intermix, Rural, and Wildlands. These WUI definition areas are then linked to the valuations applied to structures to show not only the number of homes exposed to risk, but the value of those resources. This WUI definition has been applied to wildfire mitigation efforts as well as all other natural hazards mitigation analyses.
It makes sense.
The Fire Prone LandscapesAnother analysis tool developed and used by Kamiak Environmental is the wildland fire risk tool, called Fire Prone Landscapes. Developed shortly after the legislation leading to the National Fire Plan, Dr. Schlosser identified the need for a risk analysis tool different from the US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management tools of Fire Regime and Condition Class. These tools were developed with attention given to Ecosystem Restoration; returning the natural environment to natural fire processes. While these goals are appropriate for federal agencies managing federal lands, these goals are not necessarily consistent with human habitation (homes) where wildfires can ‘naturally’ burn with intense force.
The Fire Prone Landscapes tool’s development based on several criteria and managed through a GIS program application to consider where wildfires have burned historically in terms of the slopes, vegetation type, canopy closure, aspect, elevation, and site distance from streams. The result is a GIS raster layer showing the greatest risk areas “in a splash of red color”, and lower risk areas in shades of orange, yellow and green. This layer is used to identify where risks are high, and when the WUI layer is placed over this risk layer, the analyst can directly see where risks are low, medium, and high. This analysis does not articulate natural ecosystem restoration, it is focused on mitigating risks where people and structures are co-located.
The development of this analysis layer for our clients requires that a robust dataset is compiled to make the Fire Prone Landscapes maps meaningful. On the accompanying map, we show the Duck Valley Indian Reservation surrounded by Idaho to the north, and Nevada to the south. In order to build this Fire Prone Landscapes assessment, data were compiled over a region of 9.3 million acres reaching to the north at Mountain Home, Idaho, to the south in Elko, Nevada, and from the east at Jackpot, Nevada, and to the west at the Washington/Idaho border. In this application, the raster image holds a 10 meter resolution of risk values from zero (0 = low risk) to one hundred (100 = high risk).
In this analysis area, wildfire risks are extremely high and resulted in few areas in the lowest risk categories (green colors). This analysis tool demonstrates that situation.