3 wildfire

Planning for the next 50 years

By Laura King

The energy that came out of Fire & Climate 2022 was palpable.

Our conference package, on pages 9 through 34, provides a glimpse into the incredible wealth of knowledge, level of debate and discussion, and cornucopia of ideas and solutions proposed and evaluated in Pasadena and Melbourne in May and June.

Even if you were fortunate enough to attend either segment of the conference in person or online, the abundance of speakers (more than 200!), workshops, field trips and poster presentations made it impossible to take in everything.

Our coverage in this issue (and subsequent issues) includes pieces by presenters themselves, and also delegate-written articles about sessions in which they participated.

Lucian Deaton’s coverage of the Pasadena keynote by Kate Dargan – founder of Intterra, former California state fire marshal, and former assistant director for disaster preparedness and response in The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy – outlines the challenge posed to conference delegates.

Dargan asked a packed conference room: What is our fiery future and what can you do today to impact our future to come? The story, on pages 14-15, explains Dargan’s proposed 50-year plan for fire and climate and what the wildland fire industry needs to do to elicit change.

Ron Steffens’ piece on page X mirrors his Pasadena presentation titled It’s the fuels, my friends, a fabulously detailed and personal explanation of the long-term fuel monitoring program in the Yellowstone ecosystem and how it may shape future burning.

Fuels management and prescribed burning were themes in both segments of Fire & Climate 2022. As David Bruce explains on page X, the conference was built upon the 2022 IAWF Position Paper on Climate Change and Wildland Fire.

“As we collectively face a present and a future impacted by large and destructive bushfires and still under the cloud of a COVID-19 pandemic, the conference presented a timely opportunity to focus on the bigger issues involved in dealing with natural hazards under climate change,” Bruce writes.

In Melbourne, the conference subtheme – Impacts, Issues and Futures – was an acknowledgment that the wildland fire sector needs to share information globally about bushfire causes and impacts, how to engage with communities and other stakeholders to act locally to protect communities and the natural environment, and how to prepare to minimize impacts of climate and fire regime changes.

Melbourne keynote speaker Sophie Lewis, the Australian Capital Territory commissioner for sustainability and the environment and a lead author on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 6th Assessment Report, explained the significance of a one-degree rise in temperature.

Essentially, Lewis said, it’s critical to plan for a future with conditions that regularly will make more Black Summer type events likely.

IAWF board member Amber Soja, who is a research fellow at the National Institute of Aerospace in the United States, introduced a global view of where fires are burning and the impacts on both air and land.

“The earliest and largest fire season in the Arctic was in 2020,” Soja said. “This ecosystem influences the entire global climate. This area is huge. The fires keep burning in the same place. So, we know it’s accessing permafrost and releasing millennia of stored carbon.”

Similar to Dargan’s 50-year plan, the final session in Melbourne brought together leaders from a cross-section of fire-based organizations to draw together the lessons of the previous days and help conference participants determine how to get ready for future challenges under climate change.

Rob Rogers, New South Wales rural fire service commissioner, said the 2019-2020 Black Summer fires and the changing climate showed that we all need to urgently rethink what was possible for our future.

“We’ve prepared our people for the historic worst-case scenarios but this has now moved,” Rogers said. “We need to keep adapting this worst case for what’s coming in the future. We can’t leave it another 50 years before we look at this again.”

As IAWF president Joaquin Ramirez Ciesneros mentions on page 7, while Fire & Climate 2022 proceeded in May and June, an IAWF sub-committee was making final edits to a position paper on prescribed fire.

While the earlier position paper on climate change shaped Fire & Climate 2022, the prescribed fire paper will provide a framework for the IAWF and Wildfire magazine going forward.

Find some time to read our conference package, return to Pheedloop (remember your login information!) to catch sessions you missed, and be prepared to provide feedback on the prescribed fire paper when it is released.Fire & Climate 2022

Fire & Climate 2022 has set IAWF on a path to collaboration with stakeholders and policy makers. The forthcoming paper will clarify IAWF’s role in prescribed fire not only in the United States and Australia, but around the world, for the next 50 years.