Interview with Dr. Travis Paveglio, conducted by Dr. Tom Zimmerman
Tell us about your career and what attracted you to it, and do you have a favorite position in your career so far?
I grew up in an area of southwest Washington where the Yacolt Burn occurred [in 1902]. Up until recently, it was the largest fire in Washington State, so I was always cognizant of fire in my landscape. I got affiliated with fire research because of some folks at Washington State University, Matt Carroll and others. Wildfire research drew me in because fire is a very important landscape component. At the same time, fire management can be heavily fragmented. It is often influenced by human dimensions and the way people develop relationships with the landscape. I’ve been lucky enough to work on fire consistently for a long period of time now, and I find it interesting to see the way that people adapt differently in different locations, whether it is because of biophysical conditions, social conditions or a combination of the two. As far as my career, one of the things I’ve been trying to do in fire is to have a longitudinal perspective. I’ve been fortunate to work with great people. I have had the opportunity to visit a number of different places over the years. I’ve seen how that relationship between people and landscape changes dramatically as a result of different factors. As far as the best part of my career, I am very happy now in my position at the University of Idaho. It is a strong fire program with a lot of good support and people who also do similar work.
Do you have one particular accomplishment that you are most proud of or what do you think has been your most rewarding accomplishment?
I am proud of our efforts to look across wildfire research and develop a conceptual approach for understanding social diversity and fire. It is the culmination of not just my work and all the places that I’ve been, but the work of others. Pam Jakes, Jim Absher, Matt Carroll, Dan Williams, and many others. All very good researchers. It was an opportunity for us to say: “What do these lessons mean? And how can we begin to make those lessons something that managers and policy makers can use broadly?” We are still working to move those ideas forward, and that is one of my proudest accomplishments.
In terms of the Wildland Fire Management programs today, how do you feel in general about it and what are major issue facing us and challenges we are dealing with?
One of the major issues is coming to grips with the way the relationship between people, fire and landscape changes. And how that relationship changes differently in different locations or among different communities. I think there is a fundamental tipping point, which we have already reached, where we know that the old model of fire management is unsustainable. A lot of people are looking for what that sustainable model of fire management looks like. One of the key challenges is to design something flexible enough to allow action that meets local peoples’ ecological and social conditions, but that also helps advance wildfire management across the entire country. There is a lot of really good work that people are doing. One thing we need to do a better job of is marrying different types of wildfire research. We’ve got some really good simulation and risk management work going on, we have policy, economics, human dimensions research. These sometimes come together, but we still need a lot more work on how all of those pieces fit together.
Are there any particular set of skills or knowledges you would add or advise people that they had to make your job or others jobs better?
By no means does someone have to be proficient in every facet of science or every discipline. But people should be cognizant of the different threads of fire research, and be aware of the diverse fire work that is going on. They should think about how their pieces fit together in interdisciplinary efforts. Sometimes there are great ideas in fire management, but they don’t pan out because they are not accepted or supported by local managers. Building an ability to understand how different ideas, programs or considerations play out practically is a very important skill. Some of that comes from making sure that people at all levels of higher management take the time to see how things are actually working on the ground. I am a big proponent of conducting research in communities. Seeing who people are, where they live, why things are important to them and how fire managers are conceiving of or struggling with the conditions they are facing. I would advise getting out there and actually observing the way things are working out in a practical sense. That is a very important skill.
Do you have anybody you would consider your great inspiration in helping you get to where you are today?
Yes, I have mentioned a few of them. I’ve been fortunate to work with a number of great folks. One was a professor of mine, Matt Carroll, who’s been conducting wildfire work for a really long time. Others are Forest Service folks who over the years have supported my research and taught me a lot. People like Pam Jakes and Dan Williams. Others who I just look up to when it comes to this kind of work would be people like Toddi Steelman.
Do have any advice that you would offer to someone aspiring to go into the fields associated with Wildland Fire Management?
It is important to step back and look at the complexity of wildland fire management in this country and other countries. It’s really useful to know that there is a lot of good wildfire research and a lot of excellent specialists, whether it be on the management side, the research side, or the policy side. But I think one of the things that we need a little more effort on, and something IAWF can help with, is compiling all of that information in one place. Fire science and management literature is pretty disperse. People can have a difficult time finding it when compared to other topics. Going out and learning from people in the field, or getting practical experience is essential. Aspiring professionals should find mentors that help them do that.
How do you think the IAWF can help the agencies and those involved in wildland fire management around the world to improve this program and help accomplish the objectives?
I think IAWF is playing a vital role. Serving as the interface between managers and researchers is something the IAWF does well. Sometimes researchers don’t always respond to management or public concerns and vice versa. Sometimes research is not being used or disseminated. So, I think a vital role of the IAWF is to link those people so that there is a more holistic view of things. Further out, and maybe out of IAWF control, is finding ways to support longitudinal projects. Projects that are more experimental when it comes to working with communities on being more fire adapted or working with managers to implementing new programs. I think the IAWF organization could serve as a third party with credibility to promote that type of work.
Thank you very much. I am particularly honored because this is a good opportunity to share how the human dimensions and the policy dimensions of wildland fire are important components. I appreciate being able to, in some small way, represent a lot of people who do good work on the human dimensions of wildland fire. Finding ways to work across difficult issues that are both ecological and social is going to be critical going forward. The wildfire field could really be at the forefront of that kind of work.