Partnering for fire resistant landscapes and communities

Partnerships continue to play a critical role in land and resource management across the region. On the Bridger-Teton National Forest, the Jackson and Blackrock Ranger Districts have partnered with the Teton Area Wildfire Protection Coalition (TAWPC) to create fire resistant landscapes and communities. The Teton to Snake Fuels Reduction Project is the perfect example of homeowner’s associations, neighborhoods, and private landowners working with local land managers to create defensible space and restore forest health to National Forest System lands.

The Teton to Snake Fuels Reduction Project is a multiyear effort covering just under 80,000 acres and over 10,000 acres of prescribed fire units and treatment areas, designed to decrease the risk from unwanted wildfires that could impact communities in the wildland urban interface (WUI), specifically, Phillips Ridge, Fish Creek, Teton Village, Wilson, and the Fall Creek Corridor communities. Through mechanical thinning, hand cut and pile, and broadcast burns the Jackson Ranger district along with other Teton Interagency Fire resources has been able to increase the diversity of composition and age classes of the vegetation.  The focus along the Forest boundary will provide increased opportunity for firefighters to respond to wildland fires safely and efficiently in the Palisades Wilderness Study Area (WSA) and WUI areas.

The TAWPC is a collaborative effort involving private citizens, state, federal and local fire resources. The group provides a coordinated effort to build community wildfire resiliency within Teton County Wyoming’s WUI. Through planning, education and outreach, technical support, and training, TAWPC has been critical in helping Teton County’s WUI areas move closer to becoming “firewise.”

Man holding hose near prescribed fire

Dave Wilkins, North Zone AFMO of the Bridger-Teton National Forest observes a “backing” prescribed fire along the forest boundary during the Teton To Snake Fuels Reduction Project, April 2021. (USDA)

“Communication from private landowners in the area included the concern that a wildfire would mean certain loss for their homes. TAWPC, not accepting a fatalistic viewpoint, leveraged the Bridger-Teton’s project to secure a six-figure grant for fuels mitigation on state and private land. In addition, wildfire ambassadors in the area have motivated their neighbors with information, positive encouragement, and personal examples of hardened structures and well managed defensible space. Subsequently, TAWPC members and the forestry industry have been able to work with receptive private landowners to hold homeowner’s association meetings, providing on-the-ground wildfire risk assessments, and complete numerous projects to improve home ignition zones. The Bridger-Teton’s early steps and commitment has paved the way for the dominos to fall in favor of wildfire risk reduction for our communities.” Reflected Robb Sgroi, Vice Chair of TAWPC.

Community involvement and participation has brought great success to the Teton to Snake Fuels Reduction Project and these partners on “both sides of the fence.” It has shown what is possible when private landowners and the managers of adjacent public lands put their heads together with a common goal in mind. Recently the town of Alpine, Wyoming on the Greys River Ranger District has adopted a similar model with the development of the Alpine Area Wildfire Protection Coalition or AAWPC. Other examples of similar organizations are becoming more popular throughout the west in response to increased development in the WUI and severe wildfires negatively impacting communities.