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Wildfire Mitigation Gets Technical in Placer County

The county is tackling the looming wildfire threat head-on with Land Tender, a cloud-based tool offering personalized risk management and prioritization strategies for government agencies.

With the persistent threat of wildfires and three-quarters of its land covered by forests, Placer County is taking a novel approach to wildfire mitigation by focusing on risk detection and management through a new threat assessment tool.

Land Tender, a wildfire risk modeling and geospatial data platform, was recently chosen by the county to identify priority areas for wildfire mitigation efforts. The platform was created by Vibrant Planet, which delivers fire prevention and forest health projects using cloud-based technology.

The partnership between Placer County and Vibrant Planet dates back to 2021, when the county Board of Supervisors created the Regional Forest Health Program to explore wildfire prevention strategies and find a platform to fulfill the county’s wildfire risk-reduction objectives.

“We had several large wildfires in the county over the last few years, including the Mosquito Fire back in 2022,” Kerri Timmer, Placer County’s Regional Forest Health Program coordinator, told Industry Insider — California. “We’re also third among all California counties in terms of the number of dead trees that we have because we’re going through a tree mortality epidemic.”

Timmer says these challenges underscored the county’s need to prioritize efforts in reducing wildfire risks to its residents, businesses, properties and other valuable assets.

Enter Vibrant Planet’s Land Tender system. The cloud-based system integrates diverse data sources such as lidar and satellite imagery to analyze vegetation structure and produce fire hazard modeling.

“Land Tender is essentially a decision support tool,” said Joe Flannery, director of partnership success for Vibrant Planet. “The groups responsible for monitoring millions of acres are working in a multi-jurisdictional environment, meaning you have local municipalities and local fire districts working in coordination with private property owners and land managers that have tough decisions to make to reduce risk and enhance ecological function and resilience. This tool helps them make scientifically based decisions quicker.”

The Land Tender program operates through a multiphase process. In January 2023, after the Board of Supervisors signed a contract with Vibrant Planet, they began a data curation phase that lasted six to 10 months. During that period, the county identified crucial community assets including residents, property, business infrastructure, transportation corridors, energy and water infrastructure, as well as natural resources within the forest. The county utilized GIS and spatial data to map those assets before providing that information to Vibrant Planet to be fed into the Land Tender system. The county’s data was then overlayed with fire hazard assessment components within the Land Tender system and virtual models were created.

“From there, a risk pattern is formed that helps identify the areas of the county that are the most valuable because they have the greatest number of the assets that we’re trying to protect and, at the same time, are the most at risk for damaging wildfires,” Timmer said. “And those become the areas that you prioritize.”

The fire hazard assessment tool utilized in Vibrant Planet’s Land Tender platform was initially created by Pyrologix, a wildfire threat assessment research firm that is now a subsidiary of Vibrant Planet.

The platform not only highlights areas of concern based on the information received from the client, but it also allows users to specify how many of the recommended wildfire mitigation projects would be immediately actionable based on their budget and time constraints.

“Using that portion of the tool in Land Tender, we’ve been able to help Placer County create a roadmap of potential projects for 10 years into the future,” Flannery said.

Regarding the future of the platform itself, Flannery envisions that as other cities, states, and regions adopt Land Tender and similar technologies, legislators will see more value in funding this type of technology. With greater funding, local and state governments can increase the deployment and reach of wildfire risk-management strategies while simultaneously helping to develop a skilled workforce to support ongoing efforts.
Ashley Silver is a staff writer for Government Technology magazine.