To create a better road map for scientists, researchers interviewed Democratic and Republican members of the U.S. Congress to ask what advice they would give the scientific community to help it improve the way it communicates with policymakers. The sample, which included 22 members of Congress and 20 staff members, was an even mix of liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans. This was then combined with the feedback from a random survey of more than 600 scientist members of AAAS, more than half of whom had experience communicating with policymakers.
In his October 26, 2017 commentary in these pages, Dr. Tom Zimmerman highlights a number of ongoing and future challenges faced by wildland fire management. To address these challenges he also identifies an important role for science and in particular management-relevant wildland fire research. Here, we first briefly elaborate on Dr. Zimmerman’s challenges and how they relate to new opportunities for the role of science. Second, we focus on three additional institutional or “cultural” barriers or divides that should be acknowledged and addressed when forging a path forward for wildland fire research and its necessary companion: science delivery. As commenters on these matters, we represent only a small portion—even within the federal wildland fire science community—of those responsible for or interested in the funding, execution, and delivery of actionable science to end users. Nevertheless, we represent key programs with specific missions to serve federal wildland fire-related management and policy information needs.
We examined how destructive wildfire affected progress toward becoming fire adapted in eight locations in the United States. We found that community-level adaptation following destructive fires is most common where destructive wildfire is novel and there is already government capacity and investment in wildfire regulation and land use planning. External funding, staff capacity, and the presence of issue champions combined to bring about change after wildfire. Locations with long histories of destructive wildfire, extensive previous investment in formal wildfire regulation and mitigation, or little government and community capacity to manage wildfire saw fewer changes. Across diverse settings, communities consistently used the most common tools and actions for wildfire mitigation and planning. Nearly all sites reported changes in wildfire suppression, emergency response, and hazard planning documents. Expansion in voluntary education and outreach programs to increase defensible space was also common, occurring in half of our sites, but land use planning and regulations remained largely unchanged. Adaptation at the community and local governmental level therefore may not axiomatically follow from each wildfire incident, nor easily incorporate formal approaches to minimizing land use and development in hazardous environments, but in many sites wildfire was a focusing event that inspired reflection and adaptation.
Using the Forest Service of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) as a relevant test case for systemic investigation, this paper argues that fundamental changes in how the fire management community thinks about, learns from, plans for, and responds to wildland fires may be necessary. The intent is to initiate a broader dialog around the current and future state of wildland fire management.
Often missing or underdeveloped in wildland fire research is a clear sense of the link between contemporaneous political possibility and the desired ecological or management outcomes. This study examines the disconnect between desired outcomes and what we call the “politically possible”. Politically possible policy solutions are those that recognize how compromise, stakeholder engagement, and the distribution of costs and benefits combine to structure political acceptability. Better attending to the politically possible in wildland fire-related research can, in turn, inform our understanding of the cause, effect, and the potential solutions to fire management challenges. A lack of awareness and attention to the politically possible can create divisions or barriers to realistic action.
It’s not the way we fight wildfires in the West that’s the problem. The problem is the way we manage our fire-dependent forests.
Since 2000, 154 wildfires in the region have cost over $20 million each to control. Many of them cost several times more. Together, these costliest fires, which were less than one-tenth of 1 percent of all Western wildfires in the period, cost more than $9 billion to fight. If you factor in property losses, natural resource damage and environmental impacts, the true costs skyrocket, but they are rarely measured or accounted for. What can’t be ignored is that these unprecedented wildfires tell us we need a much better land-management strategy.
Stephen Pyne is Regents Professor in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University. This is an abridged version of a piece that appeared on The Conversation; to read the entire piece, go to theconversation.com
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Conditions such as dense vegetation and drought have resulted in more severe wildland fires in recent years, and some communities are experiencing the devastating effects of these fires. Federal agencies can collaborate with nonfederal stakeholders to reduce the risk of wildland fires. This is a key aspect of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy. The Government Accountability Office recommends that federal agencies work with the Wildland Fire Leadership Council—which provides oversight and leadership for the strategy—to develop measures to assess progress toward achieving the strategy’s goals.
This Association for Fire Ecology position paper is an organization-wide initiative with two objectives: to determine the prevalence of these two issues throughout the profession, including management, education, and research; and to provide a set of principles and actions that are strongly recommended for implementation in order to foster organizational cultures of respect, equity, and parity.