About 50 participants in the morning discussion partook in breakout sessions in the afternoon. The sessions were designed to tackle the following issues:
- What are the key research efforts by region for the next 5–10 years?
- What are the technologies (for example, data and models) that can be used for fire management and what are the barriers to adoption?
- Integrating science into management and policy
- Stakeholder engagement
The participants were divided into four groups. Each group discussed three of the four session topics. At the conclusion of the rotations, participants reconvened to discuss the outcomes of the afternoon’s conversations.
While discussing key research efforts, participants were asked to keep in mind the following questions:
- How can fire management practices be improved through learning from regional differences in fire ecology?
- How might research priorities change by region in response to climate change?
- How might climate change affect management by region?
The objective was to generate 10 pressing questions for fire science to pursue in the next 10 years. To provide clarity to the parameters of the discussion, regions were defined broadly based on eco-climatological principles, such as Southwest, Northwest, Boreal, Southeast, Midwest, Mountain West, and Northeast.
Dar Roberts moderated this breakout topic. He provided a synthesis of the 10 questions that emerged from the conversations of the three groups that rotated through that session.
- How best can the impacts and efficacy of steps taken to mitigate the risk of fire and to make the public aware of fire risk be assessed?
- How can large-scale bark beetle mortality be managed and how might that management affect fire?
- How can remote measurements be used to understand the behavior and effects of large, active fires?
- How can incident teams obtain good intelligence on fire location and movement?
- Given that succession and adaptation in wildland occur over a long period of time, how can the temporal scale of these processes be captured when funding cycles are only a few years in length and the careers of scientists are short in comparison to the ecosystem changes they study?
- Is there an opportunity for a long-term ecological research network related to fire?
- How can fire–vegetation–fuels–climate feedbacks be understood from model to empirical scales and in top-down and bottom-up control approaches?
- How can science and research be leveraged to address changes in where fire is happening and where it has been perceived as not happening (for example, in the Southeast)?
- How can risks and opportunities be bounded when planning for future changes in fire regimes and their consequences?
- How can research assist managers to use wildfire and prescribed burns to achieve desirable outcomes?
In addition to managing fire better and helping communities live with fire, many participants thought that finding answers to these questions would help address issues related to wildland fire and climate change, such as determining when to manage burned areas for restoration versus letting the habitat change to a new ecosystem, providing adequate habitat for endangered plant and animal species, and anticipating and planning for changes to hydrology in burned landscapes.
The participants of this breakout session highlighted areas of research deserving attention:
- At the wildland–urban interface (WUI), research on structural fuel management and on improving design or retrofits for structures to make them more resistant to embers.
- Improved tools for predicting smoke dispersal and understanding the physical and mental health effects of smoke on people.
- Better climate models that can project conditions 30–50 years in the future as well as models that can scale down to the level of national and regional climates, even down to the level of fire regimes. Such tools would help forecast climate variability, improve predictions of how ecosystems respond to climate change, and help researchers to understand what fire regimes may work in different areas under future climate conditions.
- More research focused on the human dimensions of fire, including smoke, fuels treatment, and stakeholder engagement.
- Research to better understand and to be able to compare outcomes from different fire management approaches, such as box and burn and fuel breaks. Such research would not only provide information about the cost effectiveness of fire management approaches but would also provide a better understanding of the effects of management practices post-fire on ecosystems and endangered species.
Participants also mentioned that more data need to be collected on drought metrics (for example, snowpack and precipitation), global circulation metrics, large fires, and fuels to create data sets that can be used for long-term (30–50 years) predictions. Making such data widely available to researchers would help advance knowledge about fire quicker. Many participants also thought that knowledge would advance faster if there were more interactions among different disciplines involved with fire (for example, modeling, remote sensing, ecology, and management).
Participants who rotated through the technology session were asked to answer these questions:
- What are the technologies available for assessing fire risk and fire danger/hazard?
- What are the technologies available for near real-time fire detection, fire monitoring, and short-term fire spread prediction?
- What are the technologies available for mapping and managing post-fire conditions?
- Where are the gaps and barriers in adopting these technologies for operational use?
The goal of their conversations was to pinpoint the top five technologies that could be promoted for use in operational fire and resource management.
Planning committee member Anupma Prakash served as the moderator for the session focused on technology. She presented to the afternoon participants the five top technologies to be promoted for use in operational fire and resource management that surfaced from the afternoon’s discussions.
- Unmanned aerial systems (“drones”). Drones can be put to use for different purposes during fire emergencies, including data collection, communication, and firefighting. Drones can collect data on fire conditions and can use infrared sensors when smoke obscures optical instruments. They can monitor conditions for firefighter safety and monitor landscapes after fire has occurred. Unlike planes, drones can be flown at night, which would increase the amount of data gathered on a given fire. Drones could also be used to deliver fire retardant, perhaps even at night when wind speeds are often lower. Real-time information is critical to fighting fire, but cell phones often do not work in remote wildland fire locations. Drones could help close this communication gap.
- Imaging at different spectral scales. Different technologies capture images of the land in varying levels of detail. Their effectiveness depends on the landscape; some are more useful in forested areas while others are better at piercing through cloud cover. Multiple technologies—such as multispectral and hyperspectral imaging, synthetic aperture radar, and LIDAR—could be used together to capture different spatial and temporal scales in order to characterize the landscape pre-fire and post-fire. In particular, technologies using different spectral scales would help address the challenge of assessing the subsurface effects of fire.
- Long-term, field-based calibration and validation of data for quality assessment. These would reduce uncertainty in the data used by managers to make decisions and provide better data to feedback into models.
- Common terminology and data-capture techniques. The development of common terms would improve the usability of data sets. Investment in low-cost data collection and analysis tools for field settings would increase the data available to fire operations. Better organized data sets would help avert the problem of too much information that sometimes confronts fire operations.
- Social media and big data. Mining such data sources, including apps that allow people to identify a fire’s location, could help improve early fire detection, increase fire monitoring, and improve understanding of stakeholder needs (for communities as well as fire managers). Monitoring hashtags, for example, would convert community members into additional observers.
Other areas where participants thought better technology could help were fuel characterization (in particular, fuel moisture), mapping model predictions of lightning to areas with high fuel loads, and using smoke chemistry and spread to better understand fire behavior and the fuels related to the observed behavior. The importance of mapping unburned areas following a fire to understand the habitat and vegetation differences between burned and unburned land and investigating post-fire effects to understand future fire risks also emerged from these discussions. Some participants said this mapping should be done quickly and often after fires so that post-fire changes—such as flooding, landslides, and sediment runoff—can be fed back into models to help predict conditions that may be expected in a future fire.
Several participants mentioned that 3-dimensional mapping of vegetation would be particularly helpful for assessing fuel conditions on the landscape; at the present time, producing such maps is cost prohibitive. However, if those maps were available, they would only be useful if a companion tool were developed for their use in fire management decisions. To develop such a tool, how fire spreads first needs to be better understood, one participant said; gaining a better understanding of fire spread will require more experimentation with fires fed by different types of fuel.
In the session about integrating science into management and policy, planning committee member Rod Linn asked participants to consider the following questions:
- What is known in terms of fire science and fire and fuels management that should be used and what are the barriers to that use?
- What does the fire and fuels management and policy community need from the fire science community? What does the former think the latter should be focusing on? What are the challenges for managers/operators in using/applying the fire science available? How can the science best be made available to the end users?
- What are the differences in the science needs for prescribed fire usage versus wildfire management?
- What are good examples of proactive management approaches?
From the discussion generated by these questions, the participants were to highlight three best practices for integrating science with policy and three additional best practices that would be desirable.
Linn summarized the points made in the afternoon when the participants reconvened from the breakout sessions. In terms of the three best management practices for integrating science into policy, the participants suggested (1) the existing Fire Science Exchange Networks (previously Fire Science Consortia), (2) integration of scientists on the fire line, which would give them credibility with fire managers, and (3) finding those fire managers who are receptive to science. The reach of the Fire Science Exchange Networks needs to expand, many participants thought, because at present they do not come into contact with enough fire managers. Another advantage of the exchange networks is that they are regionally based (15 across the United States, including Alaska and Hawaii), so they are attuned to the fire history and regime in a particular area. More engagement between the exchange networks and state-level officials and private landowners would also be useful, a participant observed. Including scientists on the fire line would provide fire managers with a resource to help them determine which ones of the many scientific and fire management tools available have the most utility in a given fire situation.
Additional best practices that participants thought desirable were (1) more opportunities for in-person relationships to be built and maintained between fire scientists and fire managers, (2) better integration of managers at the start of research projects because this would improve the project design and increase the likelihood that the research results will be applied, (3) more research exploring social and institutional science to overcome the cultural barriers that prevent the translation of science into management practices, and (4) continuing education to keep fire managers receptive to science and to help different generations of fire managers maintain a common understanding of the state of the science. Many participants acknowledged that building relationships between scientists and managers and integrating managers into project design takes time and energy, but they thought such steps would have tremendous payoff in terms of developing outputs from scientific research that would be useful to fire managers at a local level. With regard to translating science into practice, multiple forms of communication (e.g., webinars, text messages, and social media) may be needed to engage managers of different ages.
The suggestion for continuing education generated some discussion among the participants. One participant noted that continuing education should be a priority for all resource managers, not just fire managers. It was also suggested that there should be credits or incentives for researchers to work with managers. Someone responded that this type of interaction is increasingly being required of researchers by grant managers; however, the amount of emphasis on that interaction may vary by agency. A Forest Service employee shared that the Forest Service gives equal weight in terms of career accomplishments to technology transferred from laboratory to field application and a peer-reviewed published paper. Steelman noted that co-production of knowledge between researchers and managers is critical for the credibility, legitimacy, and saliency of said knowledge. She added that scientists want their work to be credible, local managers want legitimacy of the work to understand why they should use the science, and information needs to be salient for decision makers to help them take action. Unfortunately, many of the institutions and incentives that govern these three actors are poorly constructed to accomplish these objectives, Steelman concluded.
Linn also reported from the breakout discussions that a number of participants noted that it is important for the fidelity of the science of prescribed fires to be high because there is more scrutiny and responsibility for prescribed fires than for wildfires. He thought that more scientific research needs to be conducted on prescribed fires because they can be most easily manipulated by researchers and managers.
In their discussions about engaging with stakeholders, participants particularly focused on the following questions:
- What is the role of co-management in differentiating and addressing “good fires” versus “bad fires”?
- What are the critical social, political, and economic challenges associated with differentiating, labeling, and responding to “good fires” versus “bad fires” in the WUI?
- What are best practices in stakeholder engagement that can facilitate more flexible fire management of “good fires”? How can the public and policymakers be brought into this conversation?
Participants sought to pinpoint 3–5 key challenges to differentiating and labeling good fires versus bad fires and to suggest 3–5 best practices or strategies for working among diverse stakeholders to create conditions that allow for more flexible fire management when appropriate.
Workshop presenter Toddi Steelman moderated this discussion and presented the summary findings to all the participants. She noted that breakout participants did not like the polarization of fire into the categories of good and bad. A fire that could be bad in the short term may be good in the long term. Good is often equated with favorable political outcomes or connected to ecological conditions, whereas bad is associated with the loss of businesses or structures and with loss of life. Rather than good and bad, fires need to be thought of more in terms of risk management and the tradeoffs associated with different management decisions. Those decisions need to incorporate a temporal component, considering short-term and long-term implications of management actions.
Most participants agreed that communication is a key challenge; communicating the varying benefits, objectives, and tradeoffs related to fire is complex. This complexity is evident in the inability to categorize fires simply as good or bad.
Other challenges to fire management mentioned by some participants include:
- An insufficient understanding of the health effects of smoke.
- The Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Healthy Forests Restoration Act have competing and unharmonized objectives.
- Legal challenges to prescribed fire, which can prevent its use and leave land management agencies or actors open to liability and gross negligence when fire is used or when it is not and untreated fuels goes on to cause large fires.
According to some participants, co-management could be a suitable practice for working with diverse stakeholders to create conditions that allow for more flexible fire management. Co-management is a process that can create opportunities to share ideas, deliberate tradeoffs, and find common ground that is appropriate for the context and the place under discussion. Some participants noted that field trips could help with reaching agreement in communities to help diverse stakeholders better understand the risks and tradeoffs. Others said federal, state, local, and private land managers need to come together long before a fire occurs to be in a position to readily implement land and fire management plans when needed.
Another practice mentioned by some participants is the creation of opportunities for sustained community engagement, which would facilitate more flexible fire management. Messages that are correctly tailored to the context and delivered by people trusted in the
community, for example, prescribed fire councils or fire chiefs, would help this engagement. Prescribed fire councils could also be a conduit for air quality conversations, a few participants added. It is important that the communication strategy emphasizes hope, not fear. Several participants noted state foresters also need to be involved because they are typically in place over a long period of time. A few participants mentioned media and zoning commissions are other players who should be involved.
Just as engagement with communities is desirable, many participants thought that similar efforts with policymakers and politicians would also be worthwhile. Opportunities on this front include:
- Resurrecting the Joint Fire Science Policy Consortium in Washington, DC, and empowering it to interact with members of Congress.
- Encouraging more interactions of researchers and managers with congressional members of the Hazard Caucus Alliance.
- Reviving the Wildland Fire Leadership Council, an intergovernmental committee that supports implementation and coordination of federal fire management policy. At the time of the workshop, the council was inactive because of the change in presidential administrations.
- Establishing a Federal Fire Science Coordinating Council, recommended in a 2015 report on wildland fire science and technology by the National Science and Technology Council in the Executive Office of the President (NSTC, 2015).
Some participants noted that engaging policymakers and politicians, particularly Congress, through these means would help to communicate the message that the costs associated with fire extend far beyond the amount spent on fire suppression.
Finally, Steelman said that there needs to be more focus on using fire events as opportunities to educate stakeholders, which could help develop a common understanding of the risks and tradeoffs involved with fire. More work lies ahead on messaging after a fire.
The breakout sessions were structured to respond to wildland fire research status, needs, and challenges outlined in the statement of task, specifically:
- Helping wildland fire managers and responders discriminate between “good” and “bad” fires;
- Adaptive fire and forest management;
- Proactive approaches to landscape level fuel management; and
- Societal needs and considerations to support and implement long-term wildland fire management strategies.
With regard to the first item, it was clear that many participants, particularly those who participated in the stakeholder engagement breakout session, thought that the dichotomy of “good” and “bad” fire was too strong. Instead, whether a fire is “good” or “bad” can depend on the point of view of the stakeholder and the point in time from which the aftermath of a fire is considered. Fires that cause destruction to human developments may later prove to have favorable effects on ecosystem health. Therefore, many participants emphasized the importance of taking the context of fire into consideration, including who may be affected by the fire, what kind of ecosystem a fire may burn, and what the management
objectives of a fire-prone community may be. Most participants thought that managing fires with community input will help fire scientists, fire managers, and community members better understand the risks and tradeoffs involved in living with prescribed fire and wildfire and may increase all parties’ ability to understand the nuance associated with fire’s risks and benefits, which change over time.
Many workshop participants said that reaching common ground through co-management of fire with communities will likely help with the three other items outlined in the statement of task. Such local engagement will be important because of the variety of fire regimes throughout the United States and the increasing number and changing demographics of people living in the WUI.
With regard to the data needs that will help adaptive management of fire, forests, and fuels, it emerged in more than one breakout session that data need to be more streamlined. Data that are more uniform can be shared more easily among fire scientists, and the knowledge generated from that data can be passed on to fire managers faster if it is harmonized. Data on more metrics, such as drought and wind, would be helpful for making long-term (30–50 years) predictions. The need for improved climate and meteorological modeling tools was also voiced by several participants. Some participants advocated for more experimentation with fire, rather than just through modeling, to better understand the effects of different fuels and fuel structures on fire spread. More studies of post-fire habitats, particularly comparisons between burned and unburned land following a fire, would provide information about future fire risks; some participants thought that such research in different fire regimes would be beneficial because a better understanding of post-fire effects would help fire scientists and fire managers communicate with communities about the fire risks and tradeoffs specific to their area. Technologies such as drones and imaging tools at multiple spectral scales could help collect much of the data that would inform better adaptive management approaches for fire, forests, and fuels.