3 2019

The President’s Desk this issue is an adaptation of the closing speech for the Sydney, Australia location of the 6th International Fire Behavior and Fuels Conference, presented by IAWF president Alen Slijiepcevic. While focused on the Sydney events, he summarizes the spirit of a conference joining more than 700 professionals on three continents who focused on understanding the key topics of the conference theme, “Fuel of Today, Fire Behavior of Tomorrow.”

By Alen Slijiepcevic

On behalf of the IAWF, Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC and IRSTEA, also our Sydney partners Bureau of Meteorology and New South Wales Rural Fire Service and Office of Environment and Heritage, I would like to thank you all for coming to Sydney and making this conference a big success. Thank you for presenting, chairing sessions, participating in discussion during the day and later on with a glass in a hand. And we offer a special thank you to our international colleagues that made this conference a success. One conference, three locations – it did work, so next time – four locations? Just kidding, since I can swear that Euan Ferguson, David Bruce and I (the Sydney conference organizers) had dark hair on Monday morning. I would also like to thank the exhibitors for their support for this conference. A special thank you to the members of the Steering and Program Committees as without their hard work for more than a year, this Conference wouldn’t be possible. For the same reasons I also thank the members of the Organizing Committees in the US and France.

Just to do a quick travel back in time, with apologies in advance that I cannot cover all presentations.

We had a fantastic welcome to country and would like to thank Uncle Brendon for welcoming us.

Then it started with a bang – with Neil Burrows challenging both researchers and operational people to collaborate much more closely. For researchers to work with operational people to understand their needs and for operational people to engage with researchers to define their needs and utilize science to help them become better in fire management. Also, a tip for the Agencies – employ scientists to help you define problems, find solutions, turn your organization into a learning one. The panel discussion was very stimulating and it shows that some problems that we have are more a communication issue than the willingness to work together. And I won’t mention reviewers but will put them on notice.

Live international links

In presentations brought by video link from Marseille, France, we learned of climate history and future as Juli Pausas took us in a journey of 400 million years to explain how climate and fires have shaped plants and the process will continue – what that means to our current knowledge on flora and fauna and how it will look in 100 or 1000 years is a question that we need to turn our mind to, not thinking that we can maintain the status quo. Following Juli, Anne Leadbeater brought us to what is the higher purpose of our work – community and how we need to change our approaches if we want to succeed and gain a social license. Think community recovery needs long before we have need for recovery (hopefully never).

Jen Beverly, in a video link from Albuquerque (US) to Sydney, showed us the issues facing Canada – changing original fuel types by mechanical intervention or beetle infestation so the existing fire behavior models are not working as vegetation structure has changed. In Australia we have similar issues where subsequent severe fires in quick succession, are changing the vegetation composition and a fuel type that we have not enough knowledge about.

Back in Sydney (and video-linked to the US), Jeremy Russell-Smith showed us how it is possible to put together science, cultural values and practices as well as economic benefits together to properly manage fire and provide a great cultural, social and biodiversity outcomes.

And a traditional owners’ panel – it was brilliant. Special thanks to all panel members and Steve Sutton who led the discussions with thought, passion and knowledge. Those discussions and afternoon individual presentations have shown us, the agencies, that we are at the begging and have a long way to go in incorporating indigenous knowledge in our practices. However, it is important that we have started that journey with an open mind and willingness to learn and adjust. A massive thank you to all panelists and Steve for openness, passion and honesty.

On the closing morning, with a bi-national, AU-US across-the-Pacific panel focused on “What happens when women thrive – a life and a career in fire,” we heard great discussions and personal stories from incredibly smart and articulate female colleagues. The words that come to mind are passion, caring, intelligence, clarity, thoughtfulness but also hurt, sacrifice, self-doubts…. You’ve heard Mika Peace, men in the room – we think we are better than what we actually are. We need to think more about our biases. We also heard how important the men champions-of-change are in changing culture and providing opportunities for women. And it is scientifically proven that teams with more women perform better. Special thank you to all panelists and moderators.

Successful team-building

The numbers of the Sydney location of the conference – which are echoed in the other sites – tell the story of our successful team-building that occurred here. Together, we include:

  • 336 delegates from all Australian states and 12 countries.
  • 34% female participation.
  • Sectors participating included Fire and Emergency Management (153 participants), Land Management (60), Universities (69), Government (17) and others, including exhibitors (35).
  • Six keynote speakers – including one live from Marseille, one from Albuquerque.
  • Three panels – 23 speakers, including four that were shared live with Albuquerque.
  • Speakers – 88, plus 5 PhD Three Minute Thesis presentations.
  • Attendance at two workshops held before the conference and two field trips afterwards.

IAWF is organizing a Smoke Symposium next year in US. You will be able to find more details on the IAWF website that you, as new members, will now visit at least once a month. Hopefully you will maintain your membership and get involved with the work of the IAWF through committees, writing for the Wildfire Magazine, publishing in or referencing the work in the International Journal of Wildland Fire (IJWF), and getting engaged in mentoring program that you will find more info on the IAWFonline.org website.

Once more thank you all for making this conference – in each of its three locations — a great success.