Communities Utilize Land Use Planning to Reduce Wildfire Risks and Costs

The Community Planning Assistance for Wildfire (CPAW) program provides communities with expertise in land use planning, forestry, risk assessment, and research to identify and reduce local wildfire risks and costs.

  • As wildfires increase in size, severity, and frequency, the costs to protect homes and structures within high-risk areas is rising.
  • CPAW is a collaborative process that provides recommendations tailored to meet the site-specific needs and resources of communities. Communities are selected through a competitive grant process; all services are voluntary and come at no cost to the community.
  • CPAW outcomes are linked with other risk mitigation efforts, such as Firewise Communities, Community Wildfire Protection Plans, and Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plans.
  • CPAW’s long-term goal is to create fire-adapted communities–a “Firetopia” where residents safely live with wildfire on the landscape.

As wildfires grow in size and frequency, the risks and dangers to communities similarly rise. Protecting homes and structures threatened by wildfires depletes federal agency budgets, and increasingly places firefighter’s lives in danger. The effects of climate change, alongside increasing development within the wildland-urban interface (WUI), amplify these adverse outcomes.

CPAW Communities

Map: Community Planning Assistance for Wildfire communities

In responding to these risks, Headwaters Economics and Wildfire Planning International created the Community Planning Assistance for Wildfire (CPAW) program. Drawing off principles outlined in the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy, CPAW works to help communities become better fire-adapted through improved land use planning.

CPAW assistance is voluntary and at no cost to communities; providing technical assistance in the form of land use planning, forestry expertise, risk modeling, and research and science to identify and integrate wildfire mitigation measures into development processes and plans.

Today, 13 communities have either completed or begun working with Headwaters Economics and CPAW to improve wildfire preparedness. (Click above map to enlarge.)

Land use planning involves better management of the built environment, such as subdivision design, infrastructure layout, home construction, and landscaping treatments, to reduce wildfire risks from the unbuilt or natural environment.

The tools of land use planning are diverse and often work in tandem with other development objectives, such as zoning overlays, development ordinances, land preservation and watershed management plans, and land ordinances. Land use planning can also include market-based mechanisms like transfer of development rights programs, as well as incentives for cluster developments and subdivision design standards.

Firetopia–Creating Fire-Adapted Communities

In applying land use planning tools to reduce wildfire risk, CPAW envisions a “Firetopia,” where communities live with wildfire on the landscape.

While Firetopia can take many forms, it generally can be described through this scenario: a wildfire breaks out within the forest and is allowed to burn because of the ecological benefits. Due to good land use planning, the wildfire burns around the community and no houses are destroyed. Incentives for firebreaks, cluster development, landscape treatments, development and design standards, subdivision regulations and other planning tools are successfully applied.

Information: examples of community tools

As a result of good planning, wildland fire has played its role in reducing fuels, agency funds are now used for restoration projects rather than defense of homes, and the community has safer developments. Insurance rates have dropped and home values have increased.

Applications: Helping Communities Reduce Wildfire Risks and Costs

Launched in 2015, CPAW worked with five communities during the course of a year. Two of these communities, Taos County (NM) and Missoula County (MT) received detailed risk modeling to better identify the distribution of wildfire risk within the county.

Three other communities, Bend (OR), Wenatchee (WA), and Austin (TX), received land use planning recommendations to more effectively integrate wildfire mitigation measures into existing development plans, including the Comprehensive Growth Plan, Land Use Regulations, Community Wildfire Protection Plan, and the Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plan.

During the 2016-2017 cycle, seven new communities were selected based on a competitive application process, including the Cities of Ashland (OR), Boise (ID), and Bemidji (MN), as well as Chelan County (WA), Huerfano County (CO), Lewis and Clark County (MT), and Park County (MT).

All assistance and services are provided at no cost to the community and recommendations are voluntary.