One of the very early tenets of the International Association of Wildland Fire was that all wildland fire management policy and actions should be based on the best available scientific knowledge, and that as a professional association we would do our best to support this concept around the world.
IAWF's roots in the support of fire science as a dedicated discipline have strongly influenced the work we do, including our many conference series, the development of graduate student scholarships and the content within our publications — especially the International Journal of Wildland Fire. So it is with some regret that we note the passing of one of our earliest IAWF founders and a prominent fire researcher in her own right, Andi Koonce. More on Andi may be found within the IAWF News section.
Our featured article in this issue highlights wildland fire research at the Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory. There once was a national network of Fire Sciences Laboratories around the United States specifically dedicated to gaining an understanding of fire in their region as well as gaining knowledge in unique aspects of fire suppression. The lab in Missoula, Montana was the largest and, with its combustion chamber and wind tunnels, the most technologically complex. This year the lab celebrates its 50th anniversary.
The research facility has gone by several names over the years. When I first arrived leading a group of university students, it was still known as the Northern Forest Fire Laboratory. I eventually came to work at the facility and interacted on many research projects with scientists there who have strongly influenced our understanding of fire in the wildlands and the WUI. These researchers were building on a strong foundation of fire science begun decades earlier within the U.S. Forest Service and by a small group of dedicated academics from around the globe who examined ways to measure fire danger, evaluate fuel, describe fire behavior and fire weather basics, understand the complex interactions between fire as a physical force and our biotic environment, and of course evaluate methods of suppression and fire use — fire fundamentals that guide us today on the fireline.
But having a rich history only celebrates the past; of continuing concern is the role of fire science in the future. There is a growing demand for good science, but good science requires funding and time to accomplish research and implement findings. In our increasingly active global fire environment, fire science is experiencing a diminishing number of dedicated government scientists that participate in the historically strong partnership with land management. Researchers need to know what managers need on the ground. These management needs, once identified and prioritized, directed research programs to discover solutions. With fewer fire scientists conducting research, there seems to be a push for them to also accomplish more by developing applications and conducting technology transfer. These activities degrade their ability to accomplish basic science — discovering new knowledge and innovations for our land managers.
I would suggest our remaining fire scientists still need to learn from original research that updates our knowledge and biophysical understanding of fuels, fire behavior, fire weather and ecological insights. Our wildland fire world is changing too fast to base our fire and land management goals on previous understandings without confirming that earlier knowledge is still valid. We need to keep in mind that the job of a scientist is not technology transfer but research. “Tech Trans” should be given to specific individuals dedicated to that job alone. When it's another assigned research duty, a scientist's time and efforts are diluted — and let's admit it, scientists are usually not the best for that job anyway.
Contact the IAWF
International Assn. of Wildland Fire
3416 Primm Ln.
Birmingham, AL 35216
To join the IAWF, visit www.iawfonline.org
Send them to: Wildfire Magazine
Attn: Kevin Daniels