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Northeast Regional Strategy Committee Newsletter

October 2021

The Northeast Regional Strategy Committee (NE RSC) is established to coordinate and support the national Wildland Fire Leadership Council’s mission and priorities across the 20 Northeast and Midwest states to facilitate understanding of wildland fire policies and frameworks such as the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy. The NE RSC provides strategic connections, fosters collaboration, and facilitates addressing regional priorities to support all wildland fire partners and their activities across the Northeast.

Membership includes, but is not limited to, representatives from federal, state, Tribal, local, non-governmental organizations, private industry and other agencies, organizations and individuals as approved by the NE RSC.  
Table of Contents  

As wildfires rage in California, fire concerns grow in New England amid changing climate

Hadley Barndollar USA TODAY NETWORK, Sept. 16, 2021

Many New Englanders marveled at the pink smoky skies – thick with ominous haze – that blanketed the region this summer. 

The smoke made for rose-colored, and on some days, blazing red sunsets. People in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island stepped out of their homes and stopped on street corners to snap pictures.

Why the sky looked that way was out of sight and out of mind for most – the raging California wildfires that have destroyed communities and wilderness across 1.7 million acres, as well as fires in British Columbia. But a rude awakening could be approaching for those in the Northeast who believe wildfires are only a danger in the West. 
 Anecdotally, concerns are growing that New England may see more wildfires as a result of the warming climate and droughts. While the region is historically wet – and many New Englanders saw the rainiest July on record this summer – climate change is causing rain to drop heavier within shorter periods of time, potentially leaving longer dry spells amid rising temperatures. Classic New England winters are also on the decline due to climate change, with parts of the region seeing far less snow.

In 2020, Maine saw a record-breaking year for wildfires. This May, a brush fire in western Massachusetts became the largest wildland fire the state has seen in more than two decades. 

Why is the sun red?:Experts explain how smoke is creating the phenomenon
"It's real," said Jeff Currier, regional forest ranger for the Maine Forest Service. "We're at this crossroads with weather, the volunteer firefighter shortage and more people in the state."

Currier called 2020's wildfire numbers in Maine "off the rails," due in large part to an increase in pandemic-prompted back country tourism and campfires gone wrong.

But Erin Lane, a fire ecologist working with the USDA Northeast Climate Hub and North Atlantic Fire Science Exchange, wants to see more data before people start ringing the alarm.

Minnesota SWCD Partners to Advance Firewise Outreach 


Carlton Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) is launching a Firewise program with the goal of educating landowners on defensible space and forest management in Minnesota.

In September, the SWCD gathered with representatives from the Chub Lake Association, the first target area, offering outreach about the program and gauging interest in site evaluations and fire mitigation plan implementation.

“It’s all about the defensible space and things you can do to protect your home,” Carlton SWCD District Manager Brad Matlack said. “That’s where we’re going to take it a little further than handing a landowner a brochure. We will use a traditional conservation practice style plan to identify things from a Firewise perspective: what homeowners can do and how to mitigate those risks.”

Partnering with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Carlton County and Dovetail Partners, the SWCD received a $10,000 grant through AIM Co. to kick off the program this fall. Dovetail Partners will mentor SWCD staff to assist landowners with best practices on how to build resiliency on their property in case of wildfire. The SWCD also will help coordinate fuel mitigation activities following the plan that is provided to landowners of each assessed site.

The goal, Matlack said, is for Dovetail Partners to provide enough support that after a year, Carlton County could have a standalone Firewise program through the SWCD.

The initial outreach began this month in the hopes of reaching about a quarter of the lake association’s 90 residences. Already, a handful have signed on for evaluations. Carlton SWCD is also working with contractors interested in providing chipping services. The conservation district is managing a request for bids for the brush chipping to support homeowners who need a way to dispose of the materials generated from the fuels reduction work.

In addition, the SWCD recently completed a drone flight to capture video to use in a Firewise promotional video. Social media publicity campaigns also are in planning stages, he said.

Matlack said he hopes to spread the program across communities quickly, and recent wildfire occurrences like the Greenwood Fire nearby, which has burned more than 27,000 acres to date, may influence landowners’ thoughts on the need to participate in the program.

“I’d like to move toward a community fire plan. I think the resources we need are partly there and just require some organized planning,” Matlack said. “While it is early in this project, there seems to be continued interest in this topic with all the various stakeholders we are engaging along the way.”

The Firewise program has been in the back of Matlack’s mind for the majority of the last 15 years, he said. Aside from the lack of capacity and time to develop and implement it, funding the effort was also a challenge.

The SWCD also is looking into biochar, which is what connected the district with Dovetail Partners. At a Carlton SWCD Board strategic planning meeting in 2019, Matlack offered up the potential for the Firewise program. Soon after, when Dovetail Partners was brought in to discuss biochar possibilities, Matlack said that if the SWCD had a Firewise program, perhaps biochar could be incorporated. Dovetail Partners indicated they could help with project funding, and this year was able to secure the grant for the Firewise project. Friday Flash eNews
Issue 407 |  September 17, 2021

Policy Barriers to Prescribed Fire: Identifying Opportunities and Mechanisms for Change

A firefighter working on ignitions during the Black Lake prescribed fire training exchange (TREX) in Northern New Mexico. Photo Credit: Gabe Kohler, Forest Stewards Guild.
JFSP PROJECT ID: 16-1-02-8

Principle Investigator: Courtney A. Schultz
Co-Principle Investigators: Cassandra Moseley, Adell Amos, Christopher Bone
Other key project contributors: Heidi Huber-Stearns, Sarah McCaffrey and Anna Santo 

Prescribed fire is an essential management tool for restoring and maintaining the resilience of fire-dependent ecosystems. This study utilized a mixed methods approach involving spatial analysis, legal analysis, and case studies to identify which policies present the greatest opportunities for change and what the mechanisms are for realizing those opportunities. We found that while many challenges faced by federal units across the American West followed similar overarching themes, each unit we studied faced its own unique combination of primary and secondary barriers.

We documented key strategies used by units that have the reputation of being leaders in prescribed burning across the West, including: stronger communication with the public, working directly with regulators, leveraging partnerships, and developing more adaptive or strategic project planning approaches. We also identified that creative problem-solving at the local level appears to be central to success. This underscores the need for building a policy framework and culture in which creative problem solving is encouraged and units are supported with sufficient resources to implement solutions. 

We explored these ideas of leveraging partnerships and creative problem solving further through a recent analysis of network governance in the use of prescribed fire and roles for bridging organizations and other actors (Huber-Stearns, Santo, Schultz and McCaffrey, article forthcoming). This work, which we discuss in our final project report and will be the subject of a peer-reviewed publication coming out later this year, yielded some key findings:
  • Collaboration and capacity building can help address policy and capacity barriers to implementing prescribed fire. In our cases, we found 67 different organizations spanning local to national scales that play a variety of roles to support prescribed fire implementation, including: communications, prescribed burn labor, fundraising, burning expertise, and burning on neighboring lands.
  • We found that most cooperative actors in our case studies were based at the local level. This highlights the value and potential of local collaborations, especially since challenges around developing necessary partnerships for prescribed fire are often locally specific.
  • These findings can help identify strategies to increase the use of prescribed fire by filling capacity gaps and other needs through cooperative partnerships with a range of actors and roles.

Meetings and Trainings

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The Northeast Regional Strategy Committee (NE RSC) 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. 
This news update is our primary communication tool with our partners and the public. Looking for more Northeast Region Cohesive Strategy information or past published news update issues? Go to:
GOT NEWS? Does your agency, organization or community have a wildland fire management project or event you'd like to see featured in the NE RSC News Update? Tell us about it! Submissions should be sent by the end of each month to appear in the next monthly issue. Just email to Larry Mastic.
Key Contacts:
Dave Celino

Chief Fire Warden
Mass. Dept. of Conservation and Recreation

Larry Mastic
Coordinator, Northeast Region
Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy

Important Links
Retrieving Northeast (NE) and National Cohesive Strategy (CS) documents and reports
All things CS plus past NE Regional Strategy Committee news updates

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