Forest Health and Wildfire Risk Reduction and Education

Research Year: 
2011
Issue: 

All forested 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. The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (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. 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 2012, Arizona Cooperative Extension in Navajo County increased fire mitigation awareness by conducting 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.

Vegetation reduction to cut wildfire risk has been carried out on 7,580 acres of private and 64,600 acres of Forest Service administered tracts to date. 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.

Impact: 

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 2011 of about $23 million.

The signal test of all that is being done regarding wildfire risk reduction came in 2011 with the half million acre Wallow fire in the Apache National Forest. It impacted five communities in Apache County. Community Wildfire Protection Planning based on lessons learned from the Rodeo-Chediski Fire in 2002 and the implementation of these plans produced spectacular results. The towns of Alpine, Greer, Nutrioso, Eagar, and Springerville were all evacuated due to the fire and all were impacted with fire on the ground, ember storms, and in some cases losses of residences and structures. However, in comparison the Rodeo-Chediski blaze, where 480 homes were lost, Wallow destroyed 35. The result is a social and cultural shift in attitudes toward forest thinning, fuel reduction, and community forest management throughout the White Mountains Region. Communities, neighborhoods, and local governments are embracing planning and maintenance of the community wildfire protection plan to reduce risk to communities and property. It is a quintessential validation of the role that Cooperative Extension provided locally in defining issues of community wildfire preparedness and safety while assisting in implementing effective mitigation processes.

Conact Name: 
Steve Campbell
Contact E-mail: