Case Study: Leveraging Norms for Wildfire Preparedness

Cassidy Dellorto-Blackwell

January 18, 2019

The Island Park Sustainable Fire Community (IPSFC) formed in 2013 as a small collaboration bringing together NGOs, emergency services, and state, local, and federal agencies to address wildfire issues in the wildland urban interface (WUI) around Island Park, ID. The collaborative aims to make the landscape resilient to wildfires and create a culture of wildfire preparedness among the residents of the region.

Challenges

  • Many residents have never experienced nearby wildfires, reducing the urgency among residents to take preparedness actions
  • A large proportion of residents only spend their summers in Island Park and have other priorities for their vacation besides wildfire preparedness

Solutions

  • Conduct outreach and host community events that help to integrate the norm of wildfire preparedness into the greater community
  • Make completing wildfire preparedness actions easy for seasonal residents by reducing barriers that might prevent them from taking action around their homes

The Island Park community is located in a unique natural landscape. While at risk of wildfire, the area has a long fire return interval, which means that most residents have never experienced wildfire firsthand. However, fire in the west is regularly present in the media and not completely out of the minds of residents. These conflicting realities have the effect of reducing the urgency felt by locals to take wildfire preparedness actions on their properties. To overcome the ambivalence of residents regarding wildfire, IPSFC has developed a trusted and recognizable identity in the Island Park community and has infused wildfire preparedness norms into the region.

What do they want landowners to do?

IPSFC’s long term goals are to ensure that the community is fire adapted, the landscape is resilient to wildfire, and the community members are ready to react and respond to wildfires when they happen. To move Island Park towards those goals, the IPSFC started by engaging the community through small steps, namely getting households to sign up for free wildfire risk evaluations. These evaluations gave IPSFC a “foot in the door” to show community members the relative ease of making their property more prepared for and resilient to wildfire. This initial contact helped to build the community’s trust in IPSFC and moved residents to complete larger actions like increasing defensible space by clearing brush and thinning trees.

Who is the primary target audience?

The Island Park community only has a few hundred year-round residents, with the population growing into the thousands when seasonal residents flood in during the summer. Initially IPSFC started their outreach efforts targeting the year-round residents since these individuals were more likely to take action quickly in response to their message. After successfully engaging the majority of this population and building their visibility and identity within the community, IPSFC moved on to targeting summer seasonal residents.

What are these landowners like?

Island Park’s summer seasonal residents tend to be blue-collar folks that have been spending their summers in the area for generations. They have strong ties to the landscape and their summer traditions — spending time with their families on the lakes and in the mountains around Island Park. However, they come to the region to enjoy themselves not to spend time and money doing work around their homes.

What message will get them to act?

By recognizing that summer residents are in the area for a limited time and have priorities beyond wildfire preparedness, the IPSFC came up with strategies to better appeal to this audience. To make it easier for them to take fire preparedness measures, IPSFC scheduled “Slash Days” to collect and haul away brush and landscape debris from neighborhoods, removing a major barrier to action. The visual nature of the event also works as motivation for action, highlighting the community norm of wildfire preparedness and moving more seasonal residents to join every year.

How can these landowners be reached?

IPSFC had already built trust and recognition through high-investment, door-to-door outreach to permanent residents. These relationships within the community helped to spread the word about the value and ease of working with IPSFC.

To reach seasonal residents, IPSFC leveraged their recognizable and trusted identity and focused on:

  1. reaching seasonal residents early in the year
  2. keeping their presence and activities highly visible throughout the summer
  3. and reducing barriers to action

IPSFC sent mailings to summer residents at their winter homes letting them know about resources available for wildfire preparedness actions. They increased their visibility during the summer months by hosting “Wildfire Awareness Days,” speaking at Home Owners Associations, and getting articles written about their activities in the local paper. To overcome the barrier of limited time and resources to deal with removing brush from their land, IPSFC organized slash pickup days where IPSFC staff hauled away residential brush and debris.

TIP: Slash Days pickups call for residents to pile brush and debris at the end of their driveway for removal. As piles appear around neighborhoods social pressure to participate in fire preparedness efforts grows, encouraging residents to join their neighbors in protecting the beauty and values of the Island Park community.

Evaluation and adaptation

By the end of 2017, IPSFC had completed over 450 home risk evaluations and hauled away 4,400 cubic yards of slash. They continue to expand their outreach efforts by setting up demonstration lots and hosting landowner field trips to managed burn sites. They have been successfully moving landowners up the ladder of engagement from getting home risk evaluations, to clearing brush from their land, to getting cost share for thinning and completing thinning on their land. IPSFC looks forward to continuing to work with residents to build on the identity of caring for their community through wildfire preparedness.

 

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Comments

Collaboration

IPSFC includes many private citizens that donate their time.  This should be added.