Assessments

What is an assessment?

assessment imageHome owner assessments consists of two parts: one is to educate the homeowner on ways to reduce risk to their property in the event of a wildfire; the other is to gather important information in specific communities which we utilize to create maps and documents for fire agencies responding to a fire.

When canvassing an area,  a very brief assessment is done to get an idea of the overall hazards. GPS coordinates, and information such as available water sources, fire apparatus accessibility, and alternate means of egress are also noted. If a homeowner is home at the time and has questions, it's a great opportunity to spend some time talking to them.

More thorough assessments can be helpful should a homeowner want to apply for grants to create defensible space around their home.

We also create maps, and informational documents which are available for fire departments, but also any outside agencies responsible for responding to a wildland event in the areas we cover. This information can be extremely helpful in aiding departments unfamiliar with the area.

The brief assessments can also be made available via Google Earth. 

Why Assess?

Public Education and Outreach

When out in the community, you have a chance to speak with one on one with homeowners, explaining what you are doing and why and educating the homeowner at the same time. This can often result in one or a few members of the community becoming interested in mitigation and wildfire safety.  They then tend to become "sparkplugs", helping to build trust and concensus within the community, by facilitating community outreach meetings, organizing community-wide projects, Firewise, etc. Once the community is assessed, the assessments create a great visual aid to the community members, showing them the exact extent of the risk.

 Preplanning

Assessing creates an opportunity to go down roads and driveways not seen before, observe areas for hazards and note areas for use as staging, safety zones, etc. Once these areas and home assessments are mapped, they become useful tools for preplans and make documentation for incident command transitions. Shared among responding personnel, this information makes for better and safer decision making.

Project and Grant Justification

Having hazard assessments completed and mapped can be a great way to justify the need for funds.  Visually seeing where the problems are and being able to convey that to grantors is extremely effective in getting the point across.  

Questions and Answers 

 

In Colorado, federal and state partners to work across multiple ownerships to increase the effectiveness of fuel reduction efforts have used Good Neighbor Authority (GNA). Projects have occurred on four of the seven national forests in Colorado. These projects focused mostly on fuels reduction in the WUI and treated over 3,800 acres. In Utah, the authority has been successfully used on Timber sale preparation, burning assistance, and extensively in rehabilitation of trails, fences, road drainage, and meadow protection.

The most successful projects are collaboratively developed projects with sufficient lead-time that include a U.S. Forest Service District Ranger and a State District Forester who are supportive of the program and were willing to dedicate the proper staff and funding to make the program a success.

The primary reasons for using the GNA include that access to National Forest System Lands was only available through adjoining private lands: intermixed ownerships with similar projects created implementation efficiencies. The Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) entered into reverse Good Neighbor Agreements for us to do work on private and state lands where we had the preponderance of work in the area and it was more efficient for us to complete the work than for CSFS send their crews for small amounts of work. Other reasons include expediting the obligation of money or simplifying acquisition of services.

According to their Good Neighbor authorizing legislation, the U.S. Forest Service and BLM in Colorado may permit CSFS to perform watershed restoration activities on federal lands when the agency is carrying out similar and complementary activities on adjacent state or private lands. This has generally resulted in fuel reduction projects that take place near state or private boundaries, where nonfederal fuel reduction efforts had already occurred or were under way.

In Utah, however, the authorization requires neither that the projects be part of a broader effort nor that they be adjacent to nonfederal lands. In practice, this less restrictive standard has led to a wider array of projects in Utah, such as the culvert replacement, barrier rock installation, and trail reconstruction undertaken in the Dixie National Forest.

Generally, the federal agency conducts the NEPA compliance. Both Utah and Colorado have developed guides that are helpful, especially if a timber sale is involved (note link to a sample guide here). A Good Neighbor Project Task Order or Project Agreement for the project is prepared and approved by both the Forest Service and the state agency. The Forest Service also provides or approves silviculture prescriptions and marking guides to be applied on the National Forest System lands. Such prescriptions and guides should be compatible and/or compliment treatments being applied on adjoining non- National Forest System lands. The GNA Project Task Order details which agency will be responsible for project design, layout, and administration. State crews or contractors perform the work on U.S. Forest Service or in some cases vice versa.
Over 2 million dollars of work has been completed to date. Costs compare very favorably to costs for Forest Service Only treatments. In some cases, additional partners (Denver Water Board) paid for the treatments on National Forest Lands adjacent to their ownership. Nonmonetary benefits include:
  • National Forest, state, and private lands are at less risk from catastrophic wildland fire;
  • The fuel treatments conducted provide defensible space for firefighters to occupy while combating fire from moving from forests to developed areas, or vice versa;
  • An impediment to cross-boundary watershed restoration activities (i.e. “Boundary less management”) was removed, resulting in greater protective and restoration accomplishments.
Another specific non-tangible benefits is the actual completion of the treatment. As mentioned above one of the primary reasons for using the authority is there is only access to the national forest through the private ownership. Without using the GNA, it is doubtful that the project would have been viable with the Forest Service process for acquiring access.
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