Continuing the Conversation: Getting Fire Science Research to the Boots-on-the-Ground

[The “One of Our Own” article in the Two More Chains Summer Issue featured Ted Adams, Assistant Supervisor on the Hells Canyon Wildland Fire Module, Payette National Forest. Entitled “Bridging the Gap Between Research and the Field,” the article focused on whether or not fire science research is being applied to decision-making on the fire line. The following quote from Ted was highlighted in the article’s opening: “We have all of this research that’s available to us and yet you could argue that a majority of individuals on the fire line are not reading peer-reviewed research and applying it to their decision-making, into their mental models.” After reading the article, Coleen Haskell contacted us. She asked if she could continue the conversation that we started with Ted. We said, please do.]

By Coleen Haskell, Communications Director for the Joint Fire Science Program

As a technology transfer specialist and fire meteorologist, I find that the Two More Chains “One of Our Own” feature in general and Ted Adams’ pull quote (above) in particular do a comprehensive job of describing the challenge of getting the latest fire science research into the hands of those who need the information—the boots-on-the-ground.

I concur with and echo Ted Adams’ “sincere and fervent quest for actively pursuing research to help improve the wildland firefighter’s challenging world.”

Adams also stated: “It isn’t that we have a shortage of research. We don’t have a shortage of information out there. What we have a shortage of is the translation of that information, in making that information relatable.” That is basically the same thing that I heard at the National Cohesive Strategy Workshop in May from Dr. Mark Finney, Research Forester with the Fire, Fuel, Smoke Science Program at the Rocky Mountain Research Station.

Those are absolutely correct assertions that peer-reviewed journal articles generally are not provided in a format that is digestible and easily applicable for managers to put into use. I suggest that a significant disparity exists between primary research and how it is applied operationally in wildland fire and fuels management, sometimes with dire consequences.

In all disciplines, these gaps are filled by technology transfer specialists, boundary spanners, science delivery experts, or whichever labels they identify with. Wildland fire and fuels management is no exception. This creates opportunity space for the Joint Fire Science Program (JFSP) ( and others to translate research findings into meaningful and useable results. Let’s face it, policy-makers, resource managers, and boots-on-the-ground fire practitioners can do their respective jobs more efficiently and more safely through sound and actionable science informing their decisions. And they should.

Another Perspective

Where I believe there is more story to tell is with the “One of Our Own” article implying that the fire and fuels community is not expending sufficient resources on the connection between fire science research and the translation of that science’s utility to fire practitioners and managers. This Two More Chains article doesn’t mention the success that JFSP and our 15-regionally focused Fire Science Exchange Network (FSEN) are making.

Picture1The JFSP’s science delivery efforts were recently highlighted in the July edition of the Fire Science Digest: “Bridging the Gap: Joint Fire Science Program Outcomes.”  This Fire Science Digest publication describes numerous ways that the JFSP science delivery efforts have made significant strides over the past 10 years to bridge the gap between research and the field primarily through the 15-member Fire Science Exchange Network and its efforts to deliver useful and actionable science to end-users in the fire community.

The boundary-spanning role of the Fire Science Exchange Network is indispensable because it fosters communication between practitioners and researchers.

How FSEN Strives to Bridge the Gap Between Research and the Field

The FSEN integrates the best available fire research with wildland fire, fuels resource, and land managers. It is a national collaborative network of 15 regional fire science exchanges. Each regional exchange provides the most relevant, current wildland fire science to federal, tribal, state, local, and private stakeholders within their respective regions. Regions are primarily organized by geography and ecology.

The 15 regional exchanges are all different in terms of their research focal areas, how they are organized, and even how they label themselves. For example, in the Northern Rockies, the exchange is called “The Northern Rockies Fire Science Network (NRFSN).” Some of the exchanges, however, refer to themselves as “consortia” which was an early name when the network was formed several years ago.


JFSP’s Fire Exchange Network (FSEN).

Regardless of how different each of their local issues are, they all share the need to build partnerships and relationships to effectively share information. They all translate scientific information to fire and fuels managers. In many cases, the FSEN collaborate on projects with each other. For example, the California Fire Science Consortium (the five-region exchange for California) developed a wildland-urban interface webinar series that was applicable beyond their regional boundaries. The series profiled five urban areas across the region, 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 increasingly becoming wildfire-adapted communities.

High Priority Research Questions

Three of the high priority research questions that members of the FSEN are collectively focusing on:

  • Effects and effectiveness of different prescribed fire and other fuel treatment strategies (such as variability in treatment timing, frequency and intensity).
  • Potential effects of changing fire environments on vegetation, fuels and fire regimes.
  • Impacts of smoke from prescribed fires and wildfire.Picture3


While specific topics vary, they include: fire and grazing, smoke management, fuels reduction, fire-restored landscapes, and invasive species. For example, improved seasonal and short-term weather, fire danger forecasting, and effective fuels management recently emerged as high priorities in Alaska. In the Northern Rockies, fire science related to firefighter safety is taking center stage. In other regions, such as California and the Great Basin, the focus may be on invasive species.

Peer-to-Peer Communication

The best way to get science information into the hands of the boots-on-the-ground 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 among scientists and fire 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.

Because shrinking budgets and more restrictive travel policies make face-time challenging, one middle-ground solution to this dilemma is webinars. For instance, the Lake States and Alaska fire science exchanges recently co-hosted a webinar on the new changes to the fuel moisture estimates in the National Fire Danger Rating System.

Best Way to Connect

The next best way for fire managers to connect with the FSEN is to visit the FSEN 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 working in their area.


The organizational affiliations of FSEN participants in 2016 are represented in this pie chart. Note that the category of organizations with the most people participating in FSEN science delivery activities is the federal fire service. This category represents most of the fireline-type positions, our boots-on-the-ground community. There are also more of these folks in the State and Tribal categories.


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 are available on the Great Basin Fire Science Exchange’s website. The Northern Rockies Fire Science Network has a searchable archive that includes more than 400 recorded webinars and videos from a variety of partners.

Fire and fuels managers interested in connecting with their regional exchange can also subscribe to their exchange’s newsletters for updates and upcoming event announcements.

Social media is yet another way to connect with research results through the Fire Science Exchange Network and JFSP. They all have Facebook and Twitter accounts. Some also offer online photo galleries and blogs.

Identifying Research Priorities

In addition, since the network’s inception, each of the regional exchanges have individually 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 the wildland fire science community’s progress on addressing research priorities, assess the degree to which national and regional research priorities align, and determine the similarity of needed science across regions.

In future years, the database will provide a powerful tool for informing funding priorities, not just for JFSP, but 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 have identified as a priority.



2 thoughts on “Continuing the Conversation: Getting Fire Science Research to the Boots-on-the-Ground

  1. Any thoughts about using the various state and regional wildland fire academies as a venue for this type of discussion and knowledge transfer? Imagine the 15 FSENs generating content for discussion at debate at these programs. Not only would it provide a great additional venue for information distribution, but it would also bring in more experienced resources to the academies JUST for the discussions.


  2. Pingback: Today in disaster resilience (22 December 2017) – Disaster Resilience News

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