In the environment of today as well as that of the future, wildland fire is a very real and dominant force that warrants considerable attention and response. Since the inception of organized wildland fire management, wildland fire has dramatically evolved in scope, magnitude, and complexity — with an impact that reaches far beyond our profession and that shapes social, economic, political, and ecological processes globally.
Wildland fire management involves planning, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation activities that facilitate the protection of people, property, communities, societal infrastructure, and natural resources from detrimental effects of unwanted fires. It includes the use fire, where appropriate, to make landscapes and human populations resilient to fire-related disturbances; and to accomplish stated objectives. It involves the application of ecologic, social, and physical science, risk management, human performance, and community engagement for discovery of new knowledge and capabilities; strategic planning for prevention, suppression, prescribed fire, use of wildland fire; and tactical application of all appropriate ground and aerial implementation practices. Long-term strategic planning accompanied by a spectrum of tactical operations now frame what once were actions driven by only short-range planning and unchanging response actions.
A long-term outlook
The National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy of the United States represents a detailed example of a comprehensive strategic plan that frames issues and challenges, and identifies long-term opportunities and direction. This Strategy (http://www.forestsandrangelands.gov/strategy/) establishes a national vision for wildland fire management, defines three national goals, describes wildland fire challenges, identifies opportunities to reduce wildfire risks, and establishes national priorities focused on achieving national goals.
By considering the role of fire in the landscape, the ability of humans to plan for and adapt to living with fire, and the need to be prepared to respond to fire when it occurs, this Strategy takes an all-inclusive approach to the future of wildland fire management.
The vision it identifies for the next century is:
To safely and effectively extinguish fire, when needed; use fire where allowable; manage our natural resources; and as a Nation, live with wildland fire.
Three goals are identified as necessary to achieve this vision:
- Restore and maintain landscapes
- Fire-adapted communities
- Wildfire response
This National Strategy defines challenges associated with wildland fire including managing vegetation and fuels; protecting homes, communities, and other values at risk; managing human-caused ignitions; and response to wildfire. Challenges are escalating but our science, knowledge, and experience are progressing and continue to reach new levels.
The importance of learning
The importance of learning cannot be overstated. Learning contributes to continuous program development and increased capability. Learning recognizes the importance of program examination; collection of new information; review of best procedures; application of knowledge, proven practices, and technology; and documentation of overall processes and results to improve program effectiveness.
To succeed in organizational learning, it helps to identify the key tasks, activities, and outcomes you require, as illustrated in this table.
A continued commitment to learning opportunities
Conferences provide a stage where a definition of needs, accelerated information exchange and technology transfer, knowledge building, consensus building on best practices, and dedicated (and focused) learning can be offered on a large scale. At one location over a short period of time, participants can experience formal training; special sessions dedicated to important topics; practical application and skill building workshops; oral and poster paper presentations on scientific knowledge, new processes and practices, and technology; on-the-ground field trips of case studies and completed actions; and informative presentations by leading experts in the field. This structured format can dramatically quicken and focus learning.
Conferences are innovative, revolutionary, and enlightening. They provide a neutral forum that can successfully fulfill all elements of organizational learning. They bring together wildland fire experts and practitioners and enable them to define what is known, what needs to be learned, and what lies ahead. They facilitate the presentation of new knowledge and tools, successful management examples, and interpretations of actions. They establish a setting where ideas, knowledge, and technology can be transformed into application and lead to increased performance and accomplishment. Conference proceedings and participant information also provide useful documentation for future reference and permanent retention.
The wildland fire environment we face today and in the future necessitates that we continue to pursue learning and growth. There are many areas needing better definition, activities needing improvement, and areas where much remains to be discovered and learned. Some key areas facing fire managers include fire intensity, spread, and severity; altered fuel complexes; fuel management and treatment; community expansion, and wildland-urban interface sprawl; firefighter and public safety; air quality and smoke management concerns; and prescribed burning planning and implementation.
There have been several conferences presented recently that focused on important wildland fire topics. They created environments where information sharing and learning about fire behavior and fuels; smoke management and air quality; fire safety; and prescribed fire were optimized. The importance of these areas is great enough that these conferences recur on a scheduled basis.
Fire Behavior and Fuels. The 5th International Fire Behavior and Fuels Conference was a large-scale effort aimed at showcasing the latest information regarding the many issues associated with fuels, fire behavior, large wildfires, and the future of wildland fire management. Significant issues in these areas were identified and new solutions called for. Management of fuel complexes; accelerated fuel treatments; preparation of communities to withstand wildfire; incorporation of learning, experience, emerging science and technology; as well as sustainable funding for wildfire suppression and fuel treatments were identified as vital for success.
Smoke Management and Air Quality. The 2nd International Smoke Symposium focused on a specific and growing area of concern and need. It brought together researchers and practitioners from atmospheric sciences, ecological sciences, mathematics, computer sciences, climatology, social science, health professions, smoke response and management, regulators, policy-makers, interested and affected publics, and others to discuss the complex issues of wildland fire smoke. Conference attendees identified knowledge gaps and opportunities for innovation and development.
Fire Safety Summit. A key area in need of greater attention is fire safety. Safety has long been an important concern and since 1997, 13 International Wildland Fire Safety Summits have focused on safety, significant events and trends, safe practices, training, ways to advance operations, new research results and technology, and improved wildland fire safety.
The recent 14th International Wildland Fire Safety Summit provided detailed attention to decision making in high risk and high consequence environments. Participants included all individuals involved in decision-making – from front line firefighters to incident managers and fire executives. Topical areas addressed at the included:
- Understanding leadership decision-making responsibilities,
- Use of technology to improve situational awareness,
- Consideration of human factors in decision-making,
- Equipping incident management teams to make wise decisions,
- Continued relevance and importance of wildland fire safety doctrines in today’s technical world,
- Learning from other (non-fire) disciplines where high consequence decisions are made,
- Lesson learned from past fire events.
International Congress on Prescribed Fire (ICOPFIRES). ICOPFIRES was the first international congress about prescribed fires in Europe. Prescribed fire is still not accepted and applied as a common practice in all countries around the world. Some are well versed in planning and implementing while others are engaged in the early stages of developing processes, procedures, guidelines, qualifications, and experience. But nearly all countries where forest and land management practices take place agree that altered fuel complexes and urban expansion are creating greater needs for fuel treatment and prescribed fire.
Slow adoption and movement into prescribed fire use can be related to social pressure, consequences of negative impacts, smoke impacts, lack of understanding of benefits, and potential loss of goods and lives. These are key areas where additional information, science, understanding, and experience are needed.
Prescribed fire has a necessary role in forest and land management. This conference provided a stage to address research, needs, facilitate intra-disciplinary and interdisciplinary communication, create synergies between science and stakeholders, transfer knowledge, create bridges among all participants to establish the first international network about prescribed fires, and increase awareness, understanding, and perceptions about prescribed fire.
The importance of prescribed fire and the need for learning will ensure that this will not be the last international congress on this topic.
National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy – National Workshop
The Cohesive Strategy affords the most comprehensive and detailed long-term strategic plan ever produced for wildland fire management. Along this line, we may consider ourselves well positioned for future challenges. At no time in history have wildland fire management agencies; organizations, and stakeholders had more science, technology, knowledge, and experience available. However, many aspects of implementation are still heavily weighted toward past experience, repeated practices, and historic templates that do not maximize capability, and implementation is not always based on the incorporation of the best available science.
At the beginning and throughout all stages of planning and development of the national strategy, science was at its center. Continued advancement and accomplishment of goals hinge on reinforcing the importance of science in implementation activities and improving mechanisms to facilitate science integration with implementation.
This national workshop is structured to provide improved understanding of the importance and critical role of science in wildland fire planning and implementation. It will also reinforce that successful implementation is predicated on an “all hands, all lands” approach with seamless access to the best available and correct science vital to success at every level and every action. It will be a workshop that promotes maximum information sharing, identifies processes to ensure full integration of science in all planning and implementation activities, and ensure continued wildland fire management research.
The Takeaway: Excellence is a global goal
Excellence in wildland fire management is a global goal. The influence of continued learning has been accountable for a steady progression of definitive positive program changes. But, its influence cannot and must not be considered complete. The importance of continued learning; information sharing, information and technology transfer, and research cannot be overstated. It must continue. Conferences offer an important mechanism to promote learning and strongly support the advancement of knowledge and education and expansion of science and management.