GCS was contracted to assist the Steering Committee in the development of a comprehensive fuel reduction and mitigation plan. Emphasis was given to these goals:
1) community-based involvement in defining at-risk priority areas;
2) emphasis on involving local fire district chiefs responsible for community fire protection across the county;
3) collaboration and information exchange with responsible stakeholders interested in furthering the planning process (many of these parties are represented in the Steering Committee);
4) use GIS technology for data aggregation, analysis, and the public involvement process itself;
5) utilization of the best available GIS data for the study area;
6) utilization of existing homeowner fire protection programs such as FIREWISE;
7) the compilation of the planning results in a dynamic, digital document that would serve the community as it moves toward continued and meaningful fuel mitigation projects across Flathead County.
In addition to the solid collaborative starting-point for the plan as provided by the Steering Committee, one of the over-arching goals of the planning process was to engage local community members to assist in the prioritization process. To accomplish this, a series of 10 meetings were conducted throughout the planning process. Valuable community-based input was captured and is presented in this report. (Detailed community outreach information includes public notices, newspaper articles, radio, television coverage, personalized mailings, emails, and telephone calls.)
Specifically, local fire chiefs from Flathead County fire districts were asked to review and comment upon the fire hazard priority areas within each of the districts. Each Fire District was presented with an informational mailing, which included a fire district map, colored markers, and materials outlining the planning process. Fire district personnel were asked to identify their areas of concern on the supplied map. Follow-up meetings, open to the public were scheduled and held with each fire district. This interaction was valuable both in terms of improving the quality of priority area assessment and building consensus in the county-wide planning process. Priority areas identified by Fire District Chiefs have been digitized into GIS format and are hosted with the Flathead County GIS Department interactive internet map server.