What the Joint Fire Science Program Can Do for You: An Interview with Coleen Haskell
Authors: Coleen Haskell, Joint Fire Science Program
Tell us about the Fire Science Exchange Network.
The Joint Fire Science Program’s Fire Science Exchange Network (FSEN) is a science delivery mechanism that integrates the best available fire research with wildland fire, fuels and land managers. It is a national collaborative network of 15 regional fire science exchanges. Each regional exchange provides the most relevant, current wildfire science to federal, tribal, state, local and private stakeholders within their respective regions. Regions are primarily organized by geography and ecology.
How are the regional exchanges different? How are they the same?
The 15 regional exchanges are all different in terms of their research focal areas, how they are organized, and even how they label themselves (e.g., their nomenclature). For example, in the Appalachians, the exchange is called, the “Consortium of Appalachian Fire Managers and Scientists,” largely because the word “consortium” has always been associated with that particular exchange, whereas many others are just called exchanges.
Regardless of how different their local issues are, the exchanges all share the need to build partnerships and relationships in order to effectively share information. They all translate scientific information to practitioners, and in many cases, they collaborate on projects. For example, the California Fire Science Consortium developed a wildland-urban interface webinar series that was applicable beyond their regional boundaries. The series profiled five urban areas, including Austin (Texas), Boulder (Colorado), Flagstaff (Arizona), San Diego (California), and Santa Fe (New Mexico). Examples of the most compelling land use planning tools were summarized to show how urban areas in the West are advancing wildfire adaptation.
One inter-exchange collaboration was the well-attended “Burning Issues” workshop organized between the Lake States and Tallgrass Prairie Oak Savanna Exchanges. The workshop was entitled “In Sickness and In Health: Addressing Tough Decisions in Applying Fire to Degraded Habitats and Declining Species in the 21st Century.” It was designed to enable land managers, researchers, resource specialists, biologists, ecologists and fire practitioners to learn from different areas of expertise, identify gaps in knowledge and communication, and work toward solutions for issues that complicate our collective wildland fire work.
What topics are the regional exchanges focusing on?
Here are a few of the high priority research questions that they are collectively focusing on:
- The effects and effectiveness of different prescribed fire and other fuel treatment strategies (e.g., the variation in treatment timing, frequency and intensity);
- The potential effects of climate change on vegetation, fuels and fire regimes; and
- The impacts of smoke from prescribed fire and wildfire.
Regionally specific topics vary but include fire and grazing, smoke management, fuels reduction, fire-restored landscapes, and invasive species. For example, improved seasonal and short-term weather, fire forecasting, and effective fuels management recently emerged as high priorities in Alaska. In other areas, such as California and the Great Basin, their focus may be on invasive species.
How can FAC practitioners tap into the FSEN?
The best way for them to connect is to visit the FSEN’s website and select the exchange that covers their region using the map on our homepage.
Their region’s exchange staff or advisory boards can then connect them with other managers, practitioners and scientists who are working in their area. Also online are a host of tools and resources, including fact sheets and science briefs. For example, a series of topic-based, searchable fact sheets is available on the Great Basin Fire Science Exchange’s website. The Northern Rockies Fire Science Network has a searchable archive that includes over 400 recorded webinars and videos offered by a variety of partners.
The Southern Fire Exchange (SFE) offers a “Spotlight Series,” which changes bimonthly and focuses on a specific fire-science topic relevant to southeastern practitioners and researchers. SFE activities, such as webinars, publications, field tours, and workshops, center around the current Spotlight topic. Recent Spotlights Series include:
- Fire in the wildland-urban interface;
- Fuel treatments;
- Geospatial analysis/mapping;
- Smoke and fog;
- Prescribed fire techniques;
- Fire and wildlife and
- Fire in wetlands.
Practitioners interested in connecting with their regional exchange can also subscribe to their exchange’s newsletter for updates and upcoming event announcements. Another way to connect with the FSEN is through social media. Each regional exchange has a Facebook and Twitter account — and some also offer online photo galleries, such as the Southwest Fire Science Consortium.
How have the research questions addressed by the consortia changed since the network was founded?
Over the years, the network has branched out from addressing fuels management questions to exploring other research topics, including fire behavior, firefighter safety and policy. In response to the latter, the JFSP recently funded research regarding where policy makers learn about fire science. Another example of a new focus is that this year, the Alaska and Northwest Exchanges were consulted regarding National Environmental Policy Act compliance. Additionally, some of the California Exchange’s major accomplishments of the year were meetings with a California Assembly Member to talk about fire policy.
Are there any changes in store for the network?
There are a few subtle but important changes in store for the FSEN.
First, the regional exchanges are now analyzing how they are improving the availability of fire science from a qualitative and a quantitative (as opposed to a solely quantitative) standpoint. They are using social science to evaluate if, and to what degree, they are supporting managers and policy makers.
Also, since the network’s inception, each regional exchange has developed mechanisms for stakeholders to provide input on research needs to help identify research priorities. FSEN is piloting a more formal way to identify and develop new research topics in the form of a database. When completed, the database will enable JFSP to track its progress on addressing research priorities, assess the degree to which national and regional research priorities align, and determine the similarities and differences between regional needs. In future years, the database will provide a powerful tool for informing funding priorities, not just for JFSP but also for other research programs investing in fire science.
Another change in the works is increased outreach to new partners and stakeholders. Exchanges have recently connected with many new partners, including extension professionals, regional ecology teams, prescribed fire councils and Firewise groups. These partnerships are part of our strategy to connect with the next generation of fire managers, which the FSEN’s advisory boards and steering committees identified as a priority.
What have your members learned about the best ways to get science into the hands of practitioners?
The best way to get science into the hands of practitioners is through active peer-to-peer communication. Without a doubt, the FSEN is considered to be the go-to resource for translating fire science research results, which fosters relationships between scientists and managers and is essential to the flow of information between those parties.
Specifically, interactive workshops, field tours and conferences foster a direct and immediate feedback loop. Shrinking budgets and more restrictive travel policies make face-time challenging, though, so one middle-ground solution is meeting via webinar.
Tell us about your work prior to the JFSP.
Before the JFSP, I was the assistant national program manager for Predictive Services at the National Interagency Fire Center. There, I provided decision support to the National Multi-Agency Coordinating effort, which involved interagency fire directors who are prioritizing wildland fire resources. I also helped coordinate the 10 Geographic Area Coordination Center meteorologists from across the country in the development of the Monthly Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlooks and the 7-Day Significant Fire Potential products. It was gratifying to work so closely with managers and decision-support professionals, especially during the peak of wildfire season. Lightning “busts” and wind events always generated heightened awareness, but the goal was to communicate storms’ potential several days in advance so that forces could prepare their strategies before the storms hit.
Before that, I had a 20-year career as a fire weather meteorologist and incident meteorologist (IMET) for NOAA’s National Weather Service. Among other duties, I trained new IMETs to use weather balloons and instrumentation that provided additional on-site meteorological capacity.
Coleen Haskell is a relatively new face at the Joint Fire Science Program. In her current role as the communications director, Coleen’s focus is on the science-delivery aspects of the Joint Fire Science Program, and she helps coordinate the FSEN. This experience underscores her commitment to sharing scientific information with the fire and fuels management community.