Jacob Gear, Fire Management Specialist
Originally from Eastern Washington Jacob has spent most of his career in both Washington and Oregon. While working in Southern California as a Fire Management Officer for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and National Park Service he saw the position posted for a Fire Management Specialist in Burns and applied.
Jacob knew he enjoyed the community of Burns as he was a brief resident back in 2001 and also spent 2004-2008 living in Lake County; "I just love the beauty and isolation Eastern Oregon has to offer."
Jacob has now been in Harney County since January 2018 and while his official title is Fire Management Specialist, he's more commonly known as the Rangeland Fire Protection Association (RFPA) Liaison. RFPAs are creatures of Oregon statute. Formed under the concept of “Neighbors Helping Neighbors,” they are organized to authorize rancher participation in fire suppression on private and state rangelands where there had been no existing fire protection. The all-volunteer crews of ranchers receive training from the Oregon Department of Forestry. Under agreements with the federal government known as Memoranda of Understanding, RFPAs are authorized to respond on federal lands as well.
"The Harney County Wildfire Collaborative is the birthplace of my position. As I understand it, during a meeting it was decided that it would be a great benefit to the RFPAs and the agency to have one person as the main contact. From there the BLM and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (U.S.FWS) said that they would commit to doing that. I think it’s a great thing, and the reason I do this job and do it passionately is because I care about the legacy we leave our kids. I feel that the collaborative is making well informed decisions that will leave our public lands in better shape than they are."
There was a time not long ago when relationships between RFPAs and government agencies like BLM and U.S.FWS were strained. This liaison position was one effort to ease the strain and help everyone work together well. "I think what makes a difference is that I’m a contact for them [RFPAs] to reach out to for answers. I am honest about what we can and can't do. I think through building mutual trust, that we can have honest conversations when there is a fire. The RFPA members know that we are doing what we can, while managing risk to both BLM firefighters and the RFPAs firefighters."
"The biggest difference that I have seen is not because of me or my position, but from both the RFPA members and the agency employees taking a moment to just talk. Not about fire, but maybe about life, hunting or how their year has been. I think that is the number one relationship builder. No matter what your politics are, it just puts the human aspect back into it and builds a great starting point for good dialog."
"When it comes to megafires, us working together as a county is what makes the difference. The RFPAs have the great advantage of having more trucks throughout the county for a faster initial response and most of the time knowing access to the fire better than any of us. By working together we can bring more resources to a fire in a faster time."
When it comes to Jacob's volunteer time with the wildfire collaborative; "One of the neat things about the collaborative is that everyone is there for the right reasons. You might not agree with what they are saying, or feel that since they are not from here they can’t understand. But if you sit and talk to folks individually we all want the same thing, we just have different ideas of how to get there. I think that the dynamic makes for the right mix of people to carry out projects in a well thought out manner. This may mean that it’s not the best for an individual or maybe a small group of individuals, but better for the majority and the landscape that we as an agency have the duty to protect."
Outside of Jacob's work with the RFPAs and volunteer time with the Harney County Wildfire Collaborative he and his wife are in the process of building their home on acreage just outside of town. "We spend the majority of our time working on the house or doing fencing or other projects as a family. When we can get free time we like to go for a hike, swim in the summer, or sled in the winter."