Forest Health and Wildfire Risk Reduction and Education

Research Year: 
2009
Issue: 

All communities in the White Mountains Zone of Arizona’s Navajo, Apache and Greenlee counties are listed as “at risk communities” in the Federal Register with respect to catastrophic wildfire. At the national level, forest health sustainability, along with wildland fire risk mitigation, prevention and education are part of a priority program under the direction of USDA-NIFA. The Healthy Forest Restoration Act (JFRA) prioritized Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPPs) and their implementation. NIFA and the University of Arizona have adopted Firewise USA as an applicable community and property owner education and implementation tool for comprehensively addressing wildland fire community risk issues. Local governments throughout the area determined that effectively addressing the risk to local communities was a priority and requested Cooperative Extension to provide leadership, on the ground development and programming facilitation.

Description of Action: 

As part of an ongoing effort that continued in 2009, Arizona Cooperative Extension in Navajo County increased fire mitigation awareness by developing a comprehensive program that includes education guides, training, assessments and a highly visible demonstration area in cooperation with local communities. The Navajo County Extension director was a co-author on the NRCD’s national publication, NACD Community Wildfire Desk Guide, published in June 2009. The handbook addresses how to prepare for, respond to and recover from a catastrophic wildfire in and around rural communities. The 2009 Sitgreaves Community Wildfire Protection Plan Report was developed and published through the Navajo County Cooperative Extension office.

Impact: 

In 2007, vegetation reduction to cut wildfire risk was carried out on 2,700 acres in local communities through grants and through the Community Wildfire protection Plan, followed in 2008 by an additional 480 acres thinned in the communities and more than 5,000 acres thinned by the US Forest Service. In 2009, 1,400 acres of private and 8,600 acres of public land were thinned for health and fire risk reduction. Totals to date are 7,580 acres of private and 64,600 acres of forest treated to reduce wildland fire intensities.

Local communities have developed and implemented CWPP statutes and ordinances that make them safer for residents. Included in the mapping and reporting process are 6,373 properties; of these, 2,677 property owners have completed necessary fuels reduction hazard mitigation or forest health treatments on their properties. This has created a mosaic of fuel breaks across local communities that will limit fire behavior and increase the potential for defending populated areas if a major wildfire starts. Forest contracts developed through associated with the restoration efforts on public land through this project have generated $53 million in revenue. Of this, a UA economist determined that with multipliers and improvements to local communities the total economic impact in the regional area has been $97 million over the past six years, with the impact in the past year coming in at approximately $26 million. There has been a social and cultural shift locally, evidenced by recent votes, work being done on private property and a general acceptance of the basic concepts of wildland fire and forest health, including the expenditure of over $6,350,000 on property treatments for forest health and fire mitigation/prevention.

Conact Name: 
Steve Campbell
Contact E-mail: