By Alen Slijepcevic
It is a great honor to be elected as the new President for the International Association of Wildfire (IAWF). It is especially significant that for the first time there is a president outside of the USA. After the announcement of my acceptance, one of the first comments I received was from a European colleague stating how surprised he was that someone outside the US could be elected as a President. That shows that our mission and vision are still not clear to a worldwide fire community and that we have a lot more work to do.
Making our mission and vision clear is the focus of IAWF’s board and leadership, and as we transition I would like to thank past-president Tom Zimmerman for the great leadership he has provided in setting the IAWF on the path of a greater strategic planning focus and future sustainability. Our Strategic Plan and the Annual Report are testaments to the legacy that he is leaving behind. It was a privilege to serve as his Vice-President over the last two years.
I would also like to congratulate our newly elected executive committee members, Toddi Steelman as the new Vice President and Steve Miller as the new Secretary. With the new team on board, we have a solid Strategic Plan to implement. This means that we will strive to enhance the value offering to our members with an aim to increase our membership, especially in the parts of the world where we are underrepresented such as Europe, South America, Asia and Africa. The focus of the IAWF has always been designed to connect the wildland fire community and provide a knowledge-sharing platform through our journal, magazine and conferences. With the increased frequency and severity of large fire events, our knowledge sharing will need to extend to our communities living in the wildfire (bushfire) prone areas as the agencies cannot deal with the magnitude of the problem by themselves. The will lead to an increase of community resilience as a part of the broader solutions to deal with the fire management issues into the future.
Over the next two years I want to increase focus on the following areas:
- Improve the value offering to the membership
- Increase our membership so we can truly represent the global wildfire community
- Increase the diversity of participation in the IAWF – gender, race and age
- Develop position papers for the issues that are the same or similar across the globe
- Build on our real links with Association for Fire Ecology in the US, Pau Costa in Europe, the International Fire Aviation Working Group, the Global Fire Monitoring Center, and so many other wildfire groups around the world
- Future-proof the financial sustainability of the IAWF.
There are a number of drivers and influencers impacting on fire management:
- Climate change and
its feedback loop (change of vegetation types)
- Land use changes
- Budgetary limitations
- Demographic changes
(sea/tree changes, immigration, etc) which leads to different population
living in rural areas. This leads to loss of volunteerism and/or increased
learning and development of skills across the new demographics of volunteers
- 24/7 news cycles
(less pronounced in the past)
expectations of the land management/fire services/governments.
- Loss of skills due
to demise of the forest industry (Australia/New Zealand) or not having
land management/forest industry included in fire management (more
pronounced in Europe)
As a result of these current trends across the globe, we are witnessing:
- Greater loss of human life, including firefighters
- Greater areas burnt
- Greater damages to environment (biodiversity, carbon, water, loss of ecosystem services, etc)
- Greater economic losses that by far outweigh suppression costs
- Increased suppression costs
- Increased public scrutiny (through media, community meetings, litigation, inquiries, etc.)
Despite all the good work we have done in recent years, in whatever roles we are involved, the fact is that the wildfire problem remains as prickly as it has ever been.
Have we been that unsuccessful? Or is it that the problem is so complex that there has never been a better time for the global wildfire community to unite around common issues of climate, weather, landscape, community and technology. That’s the mission of this association – to provide knowledge and information, to foster networks of expertise, and to voice concerns and views. We have been reasonably successful in providing each other with suppression capabilities when different countries are in need. To some degree we have progressed in research collaboration over many years. However, as a global fire community we have more opportunities to work on many other aspects of fire management, from planning and risk frameworks to common learning and development systems.
But I cannot achieve all these goals alone as President, or even with just the help of my fellow Board members. This is where you come in, as readers of Wildfire and as members of the Association and broader fire community. Where do you want your association to be heading? What does it represent to you? What do you want out of being associated with us?
Communication is a two-way process, so while we talk to you through these pages, our website, at conferences, through social media and email, please make sure that you talk to us about your concerns and your views. That’s the basis of any successful membership-based association. The IAWF will start work on the discussion paper that will look into better explaining the complexity of the issues that we are dealing with. Your opinions through the comments on the discussion paper will be than turned into the position paper that will look into the possible solutions for these truly important global issues. I look forward to this very exciting work ahead for all of us.
Alen Slijepcevic began his term as IAWF President in January, 2018. He’s been an IAWF board member since 2014 and serves as Deputy Chief Officer, Capability and Infrastructure, for Country Fire Authority in Victoria, Australia.