The Department of the Interior Integrates Its Wildfire Programs: An Interview with the DOI’s Office of Wildland Fire
Author: Kristin Merony and Kim Van Hemelryck, the Department of the Interior's Office of Wildland Fire
What does the Office of Wildland Fire do?
The Office of Wildland Fire’s (OWF) principle roles are to develop policy for the management and oversight of the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) wildland fire programs and to ensure consistent implementation across the Department. OWF bridges the DOI’s four land management bureaus — Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service — to create an integrated, cohesive, department-wide fire program.
How does OWF help communities become more fire adapted?
OWF advances the three goals of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy (Cohesive Strategy) on behalf of DOI. We coordinate the DOI’s wildland fire program with other federal agencies, as well as tribes, states and external partners, to advance a framework that promotes all-hands, all-lands, active land management.
OWF seeks to reduce the wildfire risks that firefighters, communities and landscapes face, primarily by providing strategic leadership and oversight that results in a safer, efficient, and effective wildland fire program. Firefighter and public safety is our number one priority with every fire management decision and activity.
We are encouraged that our partners have demonstrated their willingness to address wildland fire’s many challenges; we are all in this together. Their specialized knowledge and unique perspectives help us improve both our wildfire readiness and response capacity.
We take this seriously. Federal, tribal and state fire teams, alongside other partners, are working hard to mitigate wildfire risks. We need the public to take this work seriously too, and we emphasize that in our public outreach efforts.
What’s the most important thing to know about OWF’s programs during the upcoming wildfire season?
Based on the National Interagency Fire Center’s 2017 wildfire season outlook, we can expect another active fire season this year. Extended periods of drought, coupled with high temperatures and increasingly dry fuels, could lead to a longer and more complex fire season in some regions. In fact, the season is already upon us, with early season fires in Florida, the Southwest, and the Plains.
DOI’s wildland fire management staff provides expertise and guidance on any wildland fire issue, small or large. OWF looks forward to working with proactive homeowners, landowners and organizations to establish relationships and provide opportunities to collaborate across boundaries.
Can you describe one of your favorite fire adaptation projects?
Kristin: Every time I am out in the field engaging with practitioners, I learn so much in such a short amount of time. Some of the most rewarding projects I have seen are those that are truly interagency. One example is the great work being done around the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge and the strength of the Greater Okefenokee Association of Landowners (GOAL). For example, private landowners, state and federal agencies partnered together to maintain firebreaks at the swamp’s edge, helicopter dip sites, and various roads. When the West Mims Fire broke out in April, these stakeholders proactive efforts were critical to a safe and effective response. GOAL is an example of everyone coming to the table understanding that they have a role to play in finding a solution.
Kim: My favorite projects are those that bring a diverse group of individuals together for a common goal, particularly when it involves a small investment and huge results. DOI-sponsored community clean up days in rural Idaho, out-of-the-box thinking to help communities in Washington, and brochures about identifying fire resistant vegetation are just a few examples.
How should our readers engage with you?
As the partnership and fuels program leads, we directly interact with communities on the ground in a variety of ways. From technical assistance to finding funding opportunities, we are here to provide information and brainstorm regarding innovative ways to achieve your goals and enhance local action!
If you are interested in engaging with OWF, check out our website or Twitter feed. Also, email Kristin (kristin_merony[at]ios[dot]doi[dot]gov) pictures, stories, news clips or other media to keep us informed! We want to share and showcase your success.
What advice do you have for other DOI employees interested in working on FAC?
It doesn’t take a senior level ecologist to understand the benefits associated with managing a landscape for fire resilience. Through collaborative and integrated approaches, fire adaptation projects can have multiple benefits to communities. DOI employees are beginning to implement crosscutting projects that engage multiple internal/external partners and stakeholders. An added benefit of this integration and cross-pollination is the ability to leverage our funding. Try stepping outside of your comfort zone to engage others — you might surprise yourself. The reward may be much greater than what you put in.
What are you most excited about working on related wildfire resilience in 2017?
We are most excited to see how the tenets of the Cohesive Strategy become increasingly woven into the way everyone does business. We already see the fruit of the labor that went into its development. It is no longer a rare occurrence to see multiple federal, tribal, state and local agencies responding to and communicating about a wildfire. We are seeing capacity being built from the ground up. We are thrilled to see strong commitment and action from communities and leaders across the country, they are stepping up to their role in finding a solution to live with wildland fire.
We cannot do this alone, but collectively, we all play a part in the solution to become more fire adapted.
Kristin Merony is the partnerships and international relations program lead for the OWF at the DOI. Her federal government career began with the USDA Forest Service in the Rocky Mountain Region, after which she moved on to the forest management team in Washington, D.C. A native of Detroit, Michigan, Kristin has a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Biology and Zoology from Michigan State University and a Master of Environmental Management from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.
Kim Van Hemelryck, fuels program lead for the OWF, started her career as a seasonal employee with the Forest Service in 1987 and has worked for four of the five federal agencies involved in fire management (Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and Fish and Wildlife Service). She has worked on various preparedness and fuels programs around the country. Kim has served in numerous fire management positions and was a primary member of two type one incident management teams (Southwest and Great Basin) for a total of eight years. She has a passion for increasing collaboration with partners and advancing the use of beneficial fire across landscapes.