In recent years, wildland fire management has been frequently talked about in terms of what the future holds, courses to the future, escalating challenges, being at a crossroads, and the pervasiveness of constant change. Over time, it has steadily progressed to become a program having very high complexity and capricious risk. But, it has been and remains, a requisite element of natural resource management.
As we move further into the 21st century, emerging trends, both good and bad, are influencing management capability, opportunities, and direction. Wildland fires today are burning in altered vegetation and fuel complexes, exhibiting higher levels of intensity, generally impacting larger areas, persisting for longer durations of time, and more frequently occurring in the wildland urban interface (WUI). In today’s environment, wildland fire management is deeply rooted in the mix of social, ecological, and management requirements and needs. Accomplishments in regard to these areas, include numerous and wide-ranging successes but, to a lesser extent, some very serious outcomes.
Historical wildland fire management programs developed under direction focused on the single objective of fire control and exclusion. As knowledge and capability matured, program attention expanded to embrace multiple objectives and a broader range of management options. Long-term learning has shown that large-scale and long-duration communication and education programs, such as the Smokey Bear fire prevention program, can be highly successful. Expanded learning and growth has followed in the areas of fire ecology, the natural role of fire, the interrelationships of fire and healthy ecosystems, fuel dynamics and fire behavior, and the fire environment. Science and technology advancements provided immeasurable value in countless instances. Global fire policies have expanded to now often afford the most inclusive set of policy elements and greatest range of management options. Fire management workforces have become highly trained and sophisticated with advanced equipment and technology.
Even in light of these positive advancements, there are still many challenges ahead and much to learn. It must be understood that wildland fire is a key component of healthy ecosystems and that fire exclusion can have significant unintended consequences, not all fires can be suppressed, and not all fires should be suppressed. Fire intensity and severity will continue to increase, vegetation and fuel complexes will continue to change, and climate change will magnify these issues and bring additional concerns. The WUI expansion shows no signs of slowing, increasing fire complexity is elevating attention to firefighter safety, and costs of doing business are increasing.
What we are experiencing today in wildland fire management is not unique to any one country or geographic area of the world. It is occurring globally. There is a need to broaden the latitude of wildland fire management, to directly address how to restore and maintain resilient landscapes, how to make communities better able to withstand wildfires without loss of life and property, how to sustain proactive landscape-scale vegetation management and fuels reduction activities, and how to consider and implement the full spectrum of management activities and the full range wildfire responses. Responsibility for addressing these issues extends beyond just fire management professionals; social awareness of issues, ramifications, opportunities, and capabilities must increase. Collaborative undertakings that involve affected and interested participants must be used to set courses of action.
Wildland fire management is inextricably bound to land and resource management. Future actions founded on an over reliance on past experience will weaken success and land management efficiency; ecological, social, and management concerns will not be appeased through the use of a single wildfire response. Proactive measures are necessary. Increasingly frequent and damaging wildfires cannot simply be accepted as unavoidable events. The full level of risk and hazard in the current and future fire environment must be clearly articulated, understood, and factored into decision-making. Expanded ecological knowledge must not be unnoticed, but along with other scientific and technological advancements, must be used in the shaping of management activities.
Land managers must drive wildland fire management planning, implementation, and evaluation and not allow changing situations to drive management. Passive management cannot meet the challenge, active management is necessary to better manage wildlands and protect natural, cultural, and social values.
The IAWF recognizes these needs. We are committed to promote increased involvement, improved communication, escalated research, focused education and training, and active management support to help mitigate future outcomes, promote success, and elevate safety in wildland fire management. The 2014 Large Wildland Fires: Social, Political, and Ecological Effects Conference, cohosted by the Association for Fire Ecology and IAWF, was presented to bring focus to the many issues associated with large wildfires and the future of fire management. This conference was designed to provide platform to facilitate discussion of the latest relevant research findings, learn about and from management treatments, stimulate policy discussions, and inspire global fire management interaction. It represents a significant step to assist in the proactive advancement of wildland fire management knowledge, awareness, and capability.