Photo Credit: Learn what last spring’s national prescribed fire outreach assessment discovered, get a sneak peak of the resources it revealed, and find out what to expect next. Photo by Jennifer Fawcett, North Carolina State University Extension

As members of the fire community, we often talk about the need for more prescribed fire. But, are we prepared for everything that goes along with it?

It might seem obvious that prescribed fire use comes with a need for prescribed fire outreach. However, with reductions in funding and an increase in workloads, it becomes harder to keep up with demand. Most likely (if you haven’t already), you’ll need to look for creative ways to collaborate, find means to better share existing resources, and only spend time creating new materials when they are truly needed. With this in mind, my colleagues and I wanted to know if natural resource professionals are willing and able to conduct more prescribed fire outreach, and if so, what resources they already have, and what they need in order to do more. As it turns out, prescribed fire practitioners are willing to both share and do more in a big way!

Earlier this year, through a partnership with FAC Net, Lenya Quinn-Davidson, Holly Campbell and Leslie Boby (of Southern Regional Extension Forestry), and I developed and administered an online needs assessment to natural resource professionals who carry out fire-related programming. Maybe you even read Lenya’s Science Tuesday post requesting your input. The assessment was designed to help us determine the interest in doing additional programming, understand what types of prescribed fire materials and programs are in demand, and collect the most useful existing materials from the folks who are on the ground.

Incredibly, 387 people (including at least one from every region of the country) responded to our request. They described their target audiences as private landowners, community members, farmers, fire departments, land managers and students. More than 80 percent of the respondents are already carrying out some fire-related programming, with program goals ranging anywhere from “increasing general support for prescribed fire” to specific objectives such as oak restoration. But, we also found that an overwhelming 71 percent of the respondents felt that if better prescribed fire resources and templates were available, they were either “likely” or “very likely” to conduct even more fire programming.

Community members watching a prescribed fire practitioner use a drip torch to ignite fire.

Credit: David Edwards, South Carolina Chapter of The Nature Conservancy

What Do Practitioners Need?

We developed the assessment to understand what fire-related topics and types of materials would be most helpful for effective prescribed fire outreach. Since outreach to private landowners might be different than outreach to residents and community members, we separated these groups in our questioning.

Regarding outreach to private landowners, our assessment revealed that practitioners need resources related to the benefits of burning, prescribed fire in general, and smoke management the most. A comprehensive, one-stop website, factsheets and brochures were ranked as the most desired types of resources.

When the same questions were asked about homeowner-oriented resources, respondents expressed interest in materials about the benefits of prescribed fire, the concept of defensible space, and the risks of controlled burning versus wildfire. Factsheets, a one-stop-website, and brochures were again ranked as the most useful types of materials.

When asked about their target audiences’ preference between printed (PDFs, binders, booklets, handouts, etc.) and online resources (webinars, online short courses, videos, etc.), approximately 80 percent of the respondents felt that a combination of both printed and online resources are preferable, versus one over the other.

Resources to Explore

The amount of prescribed fire programming conducted nationwide could dramatically increase if better and/or more resources and templates were made and were more easily accessible. Since developing new resources takes time, the easiest and quickest way to fill this need is simply through sharing existing resources. There are a lot of awesome prescribed fire resources, materials, and programs that already exist. We were surprised by the variety of resources we received, including some that we had never seen! Just a few of the many resources shared with us include:

Based on the resources shared with us, along with our own scan of existing resources, we found a tremendous amount of material for most regions. One problem, however, is that these resources are not always easy to find or obtain. So, the need is not necessarily to create new materials in every case, but rather to better share the many excellent resources that already exist.

In some cases, however, new materials need to be developed, especially when materials on some topics may not exist, or existing materials are available but not functional in specific regions. Since some aspects of prescribed fire do not change much based on geography (i.e., the benefits of burning, fire safety, tools, equipment, etc.); we should make more attempts to collaborate on new materials where we can (such as this new fact sheet on Spotfires and Escapes created by multiple universities).

As a follow-up to this project, we hope to:

1) Compile an online library of existing resources so that they can be found more easily. Options for this are currently being explored, but if you would like to be kept up-to-date on progress, and did not complete the needs assessment, please reach me at the e-mail address below. We learned that the top three places respondents get their prescribed fire outreach resources are federal agencies, state agencies, and prescribed fire councils, respectively, so it is extremely important that these groups continue to make prescribed fire information easily accessible. We will be sharing these findings with prescribed fire councils this winter at the 7th International Fire Ecology and Management Congress;

2) Work with partners to repurpose and generalize some geographically specific materials so that they can be easily adapted and used as templates in other regions. For example, we are in the process of developing a national prescribed fire guidebook for private landowners which contains general prescribed fire information, but can be modified for a local area. Assessment participants and individuals who email me will receive a link to this guidebook when published.

3) Encourage you to develop and share materials that you haven’t yet shared with us (especially resources that were identified as outreach gaps, such as materials that explain the benefits of burning, offer overviews of prescribed fire, provide smoke management tools, and/or compare and contrast controlled burning risks with wildfire risks). If you have a prescribed fire brochure, template, website, fact sheet or other resource that you didn’t submit as part of the online needs assessment, or if you have questions, please contact Jennifer Fawcett at jennifer[underscore]fawcett[at]ncsu[dot]edu.

Thank you to everyone that participated in the assessment, and stay tuned for follow-up tools and resources!

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