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2004 Oregon Fire Program Review
Introduction
Forestry group assesses wildfire risk in Bend's urban fringe
In 2004, the Oregon Department of Forestry conducted a sweeping review of the state´s wildfire protection program. The department protects about 16 million acres of private and public forestlands statewide. The program was last reviewed in the 1960s. The character of the state´s wildlands has evolved since then and so has firefighting. The intent of the review was refinement, not overhaul. Oregon´s fire program is widely recognized as one of the premier wildland fire protection programs in the nation.

Changes
Changes over the past several decades include a buildup of forest fuels, a climatic shift that has intensified fire behavior, expansion of the wildland-urban interface, budget challenges, technological advances, and a loss of institutional knowledge about firefighting among agencies and landowners. 
 
The Fire Program Review final recommendations were completed in January 2005. They propose a set of actions to ensure the continuation of efficient, cost-effective fire protection for our forests and the thousands of Oregonians who live, work and recreate there. Some of these actions focus on internal changes to the Department of Forestry. Others will be accomplished by the department working in coordination with its partners on the federal, state and local levels. The Review also calls for modifications to certain statutes and laws that must be approved by the Oregon Legislature.

Some of the changes recommended by the 2004 Fire Program Review have already been completed, while others will take longer to put into effect. See the complete list of recommendations.

Fire Program staff is developing an implementation plan that will put the recommendations to work. Look for it here in spring 2005.

Fuel Buildup
Catastrophic wildfires early in the last century prompted forest managers to develop a strong firefighting capability. However, the adoption of policies to suppress nearly all fires allowed forest fuels to accumulate over time. Today, heavy brush and overly dense tree stands pose a severe threat to the forest resource as well as rural communities.

Climatic Changes
In recent years, the West has experienced intense fire seasons due in part to a weather trend that has fostered extreme fire conditions. Climatologists predict this trend will continue for decades. With severe fire behavior likely to become the norm, the Fire Program must adapt its firefighting and fire-prevention strategies to cope with this elevated threat.

Wildland-Urban Interface Expansion
More people live in or near the forest. By conservative estimates, there are a quarter-million homes in the wildland-urban interface of Oregon. This demographic shift has underscored the problem of unprotected and under-protected areas. The longstanding mission of the Fire Program to put out fires quickly at the lowest cost has been complicated by the presence of homes and people in the forest.

Budget Constraints
Essential services cost considerably more today than 40 years ago. Wildland firefighting is no exception. Ways must be found to manage the rising costs of fire protection while bringing revenue sources on line, maintaining fire insurance coverage, and ensuring that the burden of protecting the forest is shared equitably by all.

Technological Advances
Fire crews with shovels and hoses will always play a role in wildland firefighting. But technology holds promise to enhance effectiveness. Oregon´s Fire Program needs to keep pace with advances in fire detection, fire suppression, and information technologies in order to increase efficiency.

Institutional Knowledge Loss
Wildland firefighting is a hands-on occupation, and field experience plays a crucial role in both effectiveness and safety. Oregon´s fire suppression force - fielded by the Oregon Department of Forestry and our cooperators, the forest industry, federal agencies and rural fire departments, along with our landowner partners - has long been the backbone of wildland protection. This skilled workforce is aging, causing the ranks to diminish due to increased retirements. To ensure continuity, the Fire Program must enhance its recruitment and training.
 
Any comments or questions on Oregon's Fire Program Review can be sent to Rod Nichols.

Recommendations
The following recommendations were developed through a comprehensive review of Oregon Department of Forestry´s Protection from Fire Program conducted in 2004. They are designed to maintain and enhance wildland fire protection for all Oregonians into the future. The recommendations are categorized into four groups:
  1. recommendations to be implemented internally by the Department of Forestry;
  2. recommendations to be implemented by the department in coordination with other organizations;
  3. fire-related legislative proposals to be brought forth during the 2005 Oregon legislative session;
  4. fire-related legislative proposals to be brought forth during the 2007 Oregon legislative session or later.
 
 
 

Oregon Department of Forestry Internal Implementation
  • Re-dedicate Oregon Department of Forestry Fire Program staff to fire prevention leadership and coordination (centralized prevention planning, standards development and communication to provide staff support to the districts and integrate statewide efforts).
  • Develop a statewide risk assessment map and ranking process for Communities at Risk. Update at regular intervals.
  • Adopt 8-hour Single Resource Boss Program (Southern Oregon Area Pilot Program) as the standard for training non-agency (forest industry) personnel, with some means of identifying between those SRBs who have received 40 hours vs. 8 hours of formal training.  Also, identify, train and use non-agency personnel that can function beyond the SRB level in local situations if needed.  All of these non-agency resources would be complementary and not included in a district´s Most Efficient Level in order to prevent drawing down the district´s resources too much during critical fire events.
  • Identify and utilize all qualified private-sector and inmate firefighting (personnel) resources.
  • Explore funding alternatives, and secure adequate funding and staffing to administer and enforce the Interagency Fire Crew Agreement. (A contract administered by Oregon Department of Forestry for the Pacific Northwest Wildfire Coordinating Group, the Crew Agreement provides firefighting resources for large wildfires in Oregon and Washington as well as other states and Canadian provinces.)
  • Identify Incident Command System positions that are in critical shortage and develop and implement a mitigation plan (recruitment, training, and qualifications).
  • Strengthen and clarify Oregon Department of Forestry employee responsibilities to train for and participate in emergency wildfire activities.  Strengthen and clarify expectations of supervisors that employee participation is expected and will be used for evaluation of supervisors´ performance.
  • Update the Oregon Department of Forestry Protection Training and Certification Manual to establish appropriate standards while encouraging full use of cooperator overhead.
  • Review fitness standards for all Incident Command System positions used by Oregon Department of Forestry, as well as the method of evaluation at state and district levels.
  • Oregon Department of Forestry should take a position that encourages required drug testing for firefighter positions, including possible Interagency Crew Agreement contract revision to include required drug testing.
  • Develop an automated fire finance processing system that is integrated and interfaced with other Oregon Department of Forestry business systems.
  • Revise pre-season emergency fire resource contracts and agreements with contractors and landowners to make the contracts and agreements more responsive. 
  • Build agency capacity by establishing Fire Program business management personnel standards and qualifications for permanent Oregon Department of Forestry positions.
  • Build agency capacity by developing Oregon Department of Forestry-specific Fire Program business management training courses.
  • Identify standards to allocate Full Time Equivalent (FTE) positions between suppression, prevention and other fire management activities.
  • Encourage formation of, and increase Oregon Department of Forestry participation in, local interagency fire prevention cooperatives.
  • Share ignition-risk information with private insurance companies and collaborate on development of incentives for landowner risk reduction.
  • Support reauthorization of PL 106-393. (The Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act of 2000, P.L. 106-393, provides for federal funds to flow to counties that traditionally have been supported by timber payments.)
  • Survey non-governmental organizations to identify fire-related missions and capacities that could be leveraged to support fire protection. Develop guidelines for working with such groups.
  • Update IQS database program to include non-agency overhead (industry) certification information. (The database tracks Incident Command System qualifications of firefighting personnel.)
  • Restore Oregon Department of Forestry´s fire investigation capacity.
  • Consider Oregon Department of Forestry-specific fire suppression contracts for 10-person initial attack/project work crews.
  • Improve (1) the content and process of, and (2) the capacity to manage Pacific Northwest interagency “call-when-needed” fire resource contracts via the current Pacific Northwest Wildfire Coordinating Group review.
  • Build agency capacity by establishing final “on-scene” fire business management personnel standards and qualifications.
 
 
 

Implementation by Oregon Department of Forestry in Coordination With Others
  • Assign the Protection Coverage Group to continue to build local partnerships and collaboration to address improved fire protection coverage suited to local community needs and expectations.
  • Develop a comprehensive training program for Oregon Department of Forestry and cooperators to enhance fire prevention.
  • Improve and coordinate administration and control of open burning to prevent escaped fires.
  • Assign Forest Fuels and Hazard Mitigation Group to define roles, responsibilities and resources of partner organizations in wildfire hazard mitigation.
  • Develop and support local fire coordinating groups.
  • Continue to develop a “one-stop” grant delivery system for fuels reduction and community planning, and regularly review system performance.
  • Ensure forest health and fuel reduction grant program delivery and administration are coordinated and integrated among the Oregon Department of Forestry´s Private Forests and Protection from Fire programs. (Task federal and state technical specialists to maintain coordination.)
  • Develop a training module and technical assistance teams to help communities develop and update Community Wildfire Protection plans.
  • Disseminate data used to identify Communities At Risk to local communities, integrate information in statewide risk assessment and provide regular updates.
  • Develop an integrated (local, state, federal) spatial database of treated areas, fire perimeters, current condition class, fire regimes and risk for these Communities At Risk.
  • Develop a coordinated, multi-organization communication plan, including web-accessible tutorials and other materials needed to prepare and implement Community Wildfire Protection plans and communicate and promote National Fire Plan strategies.
  • Oregon Department of Forestry should actively engage and participate in the Oregon Biomass Work Group and implementation of the biomass components of the federal Healthy Forests Restoration Act so as to promote incentives, investments and training on biomass utilization.
  • Create and maintain a database of fire occurrence on unprotected lands (acres, suppression cost, etc.).
  • Clarify the roles and responsibilities of private landowners, county governments and state and federal wildland agencies in fire protection.
  • Actively communicate fire prevention, Oregon Forestland-Urban Interface Fire Protection Act, and National Fire Plan successes to key decision-makers to enhance credibility and increase support.
  • Promote greater citizen involvement in fire prevention.
  • Develop criteria for re-treatment of forest fuels.
  • For the benefit of fire prevention and protection, Oregon Department of Forestry will work closely with other agencies to facilitate extension at the county level of Goal 4 criteria to rural residential lands as well as forestland. Oregon Department of Forestry will effectively facilitate implementation of the Interface Fire Protection Act.  (Goal 4, which addresses forestlands, is one of 19 statewide planning goals adopted by Oregon in 1973.)
  • Continue to explore opportunities to use other Oregon State agency personnel (e.g., Department of Fish & Wildlife, Department of Transportation, Parks & Recreation Department) in fire protection.  Recognize that the Oregon National Guard, an active agency participant with Oregon Department of Forestry in wildfire emergency situations, may not be available during times of increased mobilization or war.
  • Collaborate with structural fire services, Office of the State Fire Marshal and Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training to establish equivalencies in training curricula in order to expand utilization of personnel.
  • Develop mechanism for transferring title of Federal Excess Personal Property Program equipment to local fire/rangeland districts.
 

Legislative Proposals for 2005
  • Continue commercial catastrophic fire insurance coverage; split the premium cost 50-50 between landowners and the State General Fund.
  • Bring State General Fund share of overall fire funding closer to 50 percent.
  • Increase insurance deductible by $10 million (General Fund) to $25 million to lower premium costs; increase initial-attack capability in proportion to premium savings (using severity method for allocation).
  • Formalize fire severity funding (a General Fund appropriation) as a regular budgeted item.
  • Permanently raise the Oregon Forest Land Protection Fund reserve base to $22.5 million. (Revenue sources will be reduced by 50 percent in years when the reserve base limit is reached.)
  • Re-create statutory authority for Oregon Department of Forestry district budget carryovers (debits and credits).
  • Assist in the formation and maintenance of rangeland protective associations by improving the situation with liability insurance through cost-sharing or alternative solutions.
  • Establish one Oregon Department of Forestry position to provide technical support to and assist in development of rangeland protective associations.
  • Secure adequate personnel to administer fuel reduction and community wildfire planning activities on Oregon Department of Forestry districts.
  • Ensure that landowners can continue to participate in protecting their lands.
  • Add Forest Inmate Crew Coordinator position authority to increase use of prison inmate crews in firefighting.
  • Synchronize timing of insurance coverage period and collection of harvest tax with the Oregon Forest Land Protection Fund fiscal year.
 
 

Legislative Proposals for 2007 or After
  • Clarify state statutes on closures, investigators, hazardous activities and permits.
  • Seek federal changes (Department of Defense) to include fire suppression in the National Guard's mission and training.
 

Work Group Reports
Oregon Department of Forestry´s Fire Program encompasses a diversity of activities, ranging from firefighting to fire prevention. To address each aspect of the program in adequate detail, the 2004 Fire Program Review formed six topical work groups:
 
The work groups spent many hours collecting information, meeting with individuals and organizations concerned about wildland fire, and developing recommendations to maintain and improve the Fire Program. Each group wrote a detailed report on its area of focus. These reports lay out the strategies and recommendations devised by the work groups to revise, refine and update elements of the Fire Program. Above are the group reports that have been completed to date. The rest will be posted as they become available.
 

Final Report
The final report of the Review Committee is available.
 

Implementation Plan
The Fire Program Review Implementation Plan is available.