Cohesive Wildland Fire Strategy in the West

There are forces at play that we have little or no influence over, and they direct our attention to the things that we do, and invite participation by a broader set of stakeholders in addressing our current unacceptable outcomes.

Vicki Christiansen – Chief, USDA Forest Service, Ret.

Why a Cohesive Strategy?

People are dying
Communities, infrastructure and economies are burning up
We are losing natural resources and critical habitat
The cost of fighting wildfire continues to increase

What is the Cohesive Strategy?

The Cohesive Strategy is strategic framework, rooted in science, that guides stakeholders to work collaboratively in an All Hands, All Lands approach, to make meaningful reductions in risk and learn to live with wildland fire.

The three overarching goals:

Working towards these three overarching goals, using the best available science, stakeholders find that they are undeniably intertwined, and the Cohesive Strategy is ultimately about risk. In order to make meaningful progress towards all three goals, stakeholders must:

  • Define and understand their risk
  • Collaboratively set landscape level and community-wide priorities
  • Share and co-manage risk across boundaries and jurisdictions
  • Accept some short-term risk for long-term benefit
  • Collectively invest in outcome-based approaches and activities, rather than outputs

This requires a shift in the cultural norm and the way we’ve conducted business the last 20-50 years. It involves committed, collaborative efforts that consider the hard truths of our current forest, rangeland and community conditions and the collective sharing of risk and reductions in risk across jurisdictions and publics. These are no easy tasks, but the outcomes are worth it. For the whole story on the national Cohesive Strategy effort click here.

Cohesive Strategy Guiding Principles and Core Values

The following guiding principles were crafted through discussions with federal, state, Tribal and local governmental and non-governmental organizational representatives. Below is the overarching set of principles that applies to all stakeholders in the wildland fire management community. They reach across different elements – from resilient landscapes and fire adapted communities to wildfire response.

  • Reducing risk to firefighters and the public is the first priority in every fire management activity.
  • Sound risk management is the foundation for all management activities.
  • Actively manage the land to make it more resilient to disturbance, in accordance with management objectives.
  • Improve and sustain both community and individual responsibilities to prepare for, respond to and recover from wildfire through capacity-building activities.
  • Rigorous wildfire prevention programs are supported across all jurisdictions.
  • Wildland fire, as an essential ecological process and natural change agent, may be incorporated into the planning process and wildfire response.
  • Fire management decisions are based on the best available science, knowledge and experience, and used to evaluate risk versus gain.
  • Federal agencies, local, state and Tribal governments support one another with wildfire response, including engagement in collaborative planning and the decision-making processes that take into account all lands and recognize the interdependence and statutory responsibilities among jurisdictions.
  • Where land and resource management objectives differ, prudent and safe actions must be taken through collaborative fire planning and suppression response to keep unwanted wildfires from spreading to adjacent jurisdictions.
  • Safe, aggressive initial attack is often the best suppression strategy to keep unwanted fires small and costs down.
  • Fire management programs and activities are economically viable and commensurate with values to be protected, land and resource management objectives, and social and environmental quality considerations.

How the Cohesive Strategy is Implemented?

The Cohesive Strategy is indeed a strategy to be implemented and utilized by stakeholders to make meaningful progress towards the three goals above.  We know achievement will occur over the long-term and take a generation or two to show widespread results. The time to act is now, by collaborating with those stakeholders with whom you share values and risks to find ways to co-manage that risk, at the landscape and fireshed scale, for better fire outcomes. The Cohesive Strategy outlines the management options for stakeholders to use as appropriate, in combination or alone, to make progress towards the three goals.

  • Use prescribed fire.  
    An effective, cost-efficient tool in areas with fire-adapted or fire-dependent vegetation to manage for hazardous fuels reduction, ecosystem restoration, maintenance, silviculture, rangeland preparation and post-harvest clean up.
  • Manage wildfires for resource objectives. 
    The use of unplanned ignitions to achieve resource management objectives such as ecosystem restoration or hazardous fuels reduction.
  • Implement fuels treatments using mechanical, biological, or other non-fire methods. 
    Mechanical thinning, herbicide use, mowing or grazing for ecosystem restoration and wildfire risk reduction.
  • Protect homes and increase actions by individuals.
    The protection of homes during an incident and actions by the property owner to reduce ignition potential to homes.
  • Implement building codes and standards.
    A focus on fire resistant building materials and construction standards to reduce potential loss.
  • Reduce accidental and intentional ignitions. 
    Implementation of locally tailored prevention efforts.
  • Prepare for large, long-duration wildfires.
    Enhancement of wildfire response preparedness in areas more likely to experience large, long-duration wildfires.
  • Protect structures and target landscape fuels.
    Enhancement of wildfire response in areas experiencing high rates of structure loss per area burned. In areas with high rates of area burned and low structure loss, provide for flexibility in tactics used to suppress and contain fires to enhance ecological benefits, reduce overall suppression costs and lessen risk to firefighters.
  • Protect structures and target ignition prevention.
    At the community level, emphasize both structure protection and wildfire prevention to enhance the effectiveness of initial response.

Cohesive Strategy in the West

The Western Regional Strategy Committee (aka the Western Region) is the western arm of the Wildland Fire Leadership Council, chartered to support and facilitate implementation of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy and address national and regional priorities across the West.

map with states highlighted

From Nebraska to Alaska, the Western Region acts as a network for strategic engagement that advances the philosophy of the Cohesive Strategy. We believe that through a solid understanding of the guidance that the Cohesive Strategy offers, stakeholders can “work better together” to define their risk and shared values, prioritize those risks and take collective steps to change the negative fire trajectory we now face in the West.

The Cohesive Strategy is embraced and implemented differently across states and geographical regions. Our goal is to help federal, state, Tribal and local stakeholders understand their roles and responsibilities and who their partners are through strategic engagement at all levels.

Current WRSC Documents