Reducing Our Risk

Organization: 
The Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project

Entry Overview

Each spring residents of Flagstaff, Arizona watch with fingers crossed as the forest dries out, hoping to escape another devastating wildfire season. The monsoons once signaling reprieve, have become a source of overwhelming fear and anxiety. Lessons learned from the unprecedented and repeated flooding following 2010’s Schultz Fire awoke a new awareness of the extraordinary impacts that can occur long after a wildfire’s last smoke is extinguished. The Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project (FWPP) highlights a new urgency to protect our community from not only the threat of wildfire, but from potentially more devastating post-fire flood events.

Funded through a municipal bond approved by 74% of voters, FWPP is a partnership between the City of Flagstaff, State of Arizona and Coconino National forest working to reduce the risk of severe wildfire and subsequent flooding in two watersheds critical to Flagstaff. There is no question these areas will burn with high intensity under current conditions. FWPP will implement forest management activities placing the forest on a restoration trajectory through forest thinning and application of prescribed fire.

General Info
Mark
Brehl
Email : 
mbrehl@flagstaffaz.gov
Organization Address: 
211 W. Aspen St.
Flagstaff , Arizona 86001
United States
Problem
Population Impacted: 
100,000
Hazard: 
Wildfire
Identify the likelihood and frequency of this hazard : 
Flagstaff has experienced wildfire every month of the year. Hundreds of ignitions are typical during the spring/summer peak before monsoon moisture arrives. May-July days see handfuls, to a hundred ignitions, any one potentially devastating. Local pioneering prevention and mitigation efforts have proven results, literally tested by fire helping protect Flagstaff. Yet our two most critical and hard to treat watersheds could be lost to wildfire in a single day devastating our community for generations.
Explain how vulnerable the community is to this hazard: 
Severe wildfire in our watersheds would immediately impact us all – potential injury or death, evacuations, smoke, home loss, economic decline, etc. Long term impacts including flooding from severely burned slopes in our watersheds are estimated to exceed the 100-year flood, occurring repeatedly years after the fire. Flood waters and debris flows will devastate neighborhoods, downtown, much of NAU campus and result in loss of up to 50% of our municipal water supply, destroying our community.
List the potential affects of this hazard: 
Impacts from severe wildfire in Flagstaff’s two most critical watersheds will be extensive. Some will be abrupt, while other effects unravel over time, compounding each year. The potential impacts to will be severe and devastating to our community.
Identify how sensitive the community is to these affects: 
Projections indicate severe wildfire on the steep slopes above Flagstaff would result in repeated, devastating floods impacting large portions of the City. Wildfire and subsequent erosion on slopes of Mormon Mountain could render 50% of the city’s water supply unsuitable. The recently completed FWPP Cost Avoidance Study indicates the investment in treatment will avoid $522 Million - $1.2 Billion in loss, devastating our community for generations.
Action
Preparedness Goal: 
Implementing forest treatments in two critical watersheds, reducing the risk of severe wildfire and subsequent post-fire flooding to our community.
Implementing Actions: 

FWPP’s innovative funding approach allows us to accelerate, leverage and expand upon other current forest restoration initiatives. The community supported funding source allows consideration of crucial forest treatment options never before possible and unique to our area. In the steep rocky terrain of the Rio de Flag and Upper Lake Mary watersheds, specialized steep slope harvesting methods and equipment are required to effectively meet the risk reduction and forest restoration goals essential to protect the Flagstaff community and its water supply.

In the initial stages of implementation, over 1,200 acres of the roughly 15,500 project area have already been treated through a combination of prescribed fire, hand thinning and traditional mechanical logging methods. These initial efforts have treated large areas of City of Flagstaff Open Space, Arizona State Trust Land, Coconino National Forest and Navajo Nation owned land. Several thousand acres of treatments are planned for 2015 with full environmental clearance and implementation plans nearly complete for the entire project area. Full scale implementation is expected to begin within the year. Treatments will include the best combination of hand thinning, prescribed fire, traditional, cable, helicopter and specialized steep slope harvesting and forest treatment methods possible to effectively reduce risk and promote forest health in our two most critical watersheds.

Solution
Describe Your Solution: 

Implementation of ecologically sound forest restoration activities not only protects our community from the immediate threat of wildfire and long term post-fire flooding impacts, but helps alleviate the extreme effects of climate change we are already witnessing in the southwest. Large wildfires have already consumed vast tracts of forest and communities int their path. Current and predicted trends indicate warmer and drier conditions will continue to increase and influence the growing intensity, severity and size of wildfires along with a prominence of voracious pathogens attacking our forests. Forest restoration treatments in degraded stands like those targeted by FWPP quickly rebound, becoming more resilient to the severe effects climate change.

Results
Economic?: 

The FWPP Cost Avoidance Study estimates Flagstaff’s $10 million investment in wildfire risk reduction and forest restoration activities avoids a staggering $522 million - $1.2 billion of future damage. Flagstaff’s proactive approach to mitigate risk is an investment in the future. One spark could set into motion a series of events devastating to our community. Home loss, infrastructure damage, business and tourism decline, loss of life will result in the loss of a community that cannot be restored. Flagstaff’s investment in FWPP has helped leverage an additional $2 million in county, state, and federal funding to expand the project capacity.

Environmental?: 

Ecological restoration and wildfire protection efforts can often be parallel activities. There are few win/win instances in life but the FWPP is surely an example. Efforts implemented to reduce wildfire risk and protect communities can also serve the dual purpose of helping restore lost and critical habitat. Threatened, endangered and sensitive key stone species such as the Mexican Spotted Owl and Northern Goshawk will benefit from improved and protected habitat created by FWPP treatments.

Social?: 

74% support at the polls for the FWPP is an outstanding number. Residents understand the dire condition of our forests and support active management to restore ecological integrity and protect our community. Exit poll surveys in 2012 indicated half of the 74% who supported the FWPP bond incorrectly believed they would pay $250 more in taxes each year yet still felt strongly enough to vote in favor. County residents who could not vote in favor of FWPP, A city bond questions,  expressed frustration and a desire back the intiative.

What were the negative or unintended impacts (if any) associated with implementing this solution? : 

Some unexpected instances of fear and anxiety have required attention. Media sensationalism and rumor resulted in some of the 74% who initially supported FWPP, beginning to have doubts. These instances regarding the use of helicopter and cable logging methods provided educational opportunities to for us to better address the community’s need to understand FWPP in more detail. These interactions resulted in many more well informed community advocates. These instances of public misconception, where ever they arise, allow us to address information gaps, focus needed messaging and help ensure project transparency and responsiveness to community expectations.

Replication/Scale
Return on Investment: How much did it cost to implement these activities? How do your results above compare to this investment?: 

The FWPP has garnered attention from numerous regional, national and international communities and organizations interested in learning about innovative ways to initiate and implement similar projects in their own communities. Since inception of the FWPP, we’ve understood the value of documenting the process which allowed us to achieve such support and success so that we can share information with others wishing to initiate similar efforts. While no single approach is appropriate for every community, it’s our hope that the process of the FWPP can serve as a roadmap inspiring others to learn from our example and tailor projects specifically suited to their community, just as we were inspired to build upon the efforts and experiences of other communities.

What are the main factors needed to successfully replicate this solution elsewhere?: 

The FWPP has garnered attention from numerous regional, national and international communities and organizations interested in learning about innovative ways to initiate and implement similar projects in their own communities. Since inception of the FWPP, we’ve understood the value of documenting the process which allowed us to achieve such support and success so that we can share information with others wishing to initiate similar efforts. While no single approach is appropriate for every community, it’s our hope that the process of the FWPP can serve as a roadmap inspiring others to learn from our example and tailor projects specifically suited to their community, just as we were inspired to build upon the efforts and experiences of other communities.

Contest Info
Contest Name: 
Reducing Our Risk

Contest Partners

Save the Children logo

Contest Sponsors

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