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Improve Fire Prevention and Suppression Reduce Hazardous FuelsRestore Fire Adapted Ecosystems Promote Community AssistanceSummary



La Plata County is notable in the cooperative relationships it has cultivated over a 10-year period that facilitate its ability to respond to wildfire threats. La Plata County has operated in a financially resource constrained environment, but has leveraged its working relationships to accomplish a great deal. There is strong collaborative capacity at the local, state and federal levels. The Office of Community Service has played a key role in developing collaborative capacity.

La Plata County has received minimal financial support from the State Fire Assistance Cost Share Program. Lacking money to provide incentives to homeowners to create defensible space, they have relied heavily on an extensive education and outreach strategy to encourage homeowners to take action on their own. They have used a wide variety of tools and techniques to reach people in high wildfire risk areas, including: a webpage, wildfire newspaper article series, and events like the wildfire prevention and education month with films, site tours, and defensible space demonstration tours.

La Plata County's challenge is to get private landowners to treat their properties defensibly with little financial assistance incentives from CSFS. The prevailing attitude in CSFS is that the fire risk is the landowners' problem and responsibility, and that the landowners need to shoulder the full costs to mitigate their threats. La Plata County has had strong education and outreach efforts that will hopefully be realized in citizens taking action to defend their homes and property against wildfire. Once there is private property defensible work being done on a large scale, they will have to address slash removal and disposal issues.

Cooperative relationships among fire and emergency responders also is notable in La Plata County. The Durango Interagency Fire Dispatch Center coordinates quick and effective interagency fire response and works cooperatively with local, state and federal emergency responders. County Emergency Management has a reverse 911 emergency notification system and a road-side notification system of flashing signs that can shut down roads when needed.

The USFS, BLM and Colorado State Forestry are engaged in innovative ways to treat public lands. The Good Neighbor Agreement facilitates treatment of at-risk private property abutting public lands. The San Juan Public Lands Center, which is the USFS and BLM merged together, has two clever NEPA innovations: 1) the San Juan National Forest-wide Programmatic Document that allows lightning fires to burn with established constraints; and 2) BLM's umbrella Environmental Assessments that cover two to three years of work on 10,000-15,000 acres of land. USFS also has Stewardship Contracting projects. These policies give the agencies the flexibility to effectively get acres treated. The agencies have a good track record for fire treatments on public lands, and have built good relationships with the public earning their trust.

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Copyright©2003 Toddi A. Steelman and North Carolina State University