Congress solicits advice on wildland fire research

House of Representatives Science, Space, and Technology Committee
House of Representatives Science, Space, and Technology Committee hearing, June 29, 2021.

In a hearing Tuesday before the House of Representatives Science, Space, and Technology Committee the topic was “The state of federal wildland fire science: examining opportunities for further research and coordination.” And just as promised, many topics were recommended for additional development and research.

There were four witnesses:

      • Dr. Craig B. Clements, San Jose State University
      • Dr. Jessica McCarty, Miami University
      • George Geissler, Washington DNR
      • Fire Chief Erik Litzenberg (Ret), International Association of Fire Chiefs

If you don’t have two and a half hours to watch the video below of the entire hearing, you can watch the prepared five-minute presentations of the four witnesses and get a good idea of the topics that were discussed. They begin at 26:30.

I made a list of the topics that were mentioned as needing more research:

  • Better systems for fire detection and modeling.
  • Systems for tracking the real time location of firefighters and other resources.
  • Increase the budget for the Joint Fire Science Program, which was cut in half during the last four years.
  • Fire weather.
  • Deploy on fires what would be the equivalent of hurricane hunter aircraft for real time monitoring of fires and weather at fires.
  • Treat fire weather the same as other severe weather phenomena.
  • Continuous real time high resolution imagery of fires.
  • Operational community-based coupled fire atmosphere models.
  • Better geospatial and temporal resolution for monitoring fires.
  • Improved and standardized warning system for fires.

If you would like to see another point of view, check out a July 1 interview with Mark Finney by Saul Elbein in The Hill. Mr. Finney is a Research Forester with the Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory. Early in the piece Mr. Finney said more prescribed fire was needed.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

Equilibrium: What do you feel is missing from an approach centered on suppressing big fires?

Finney: The issue is, reactive management rarely works. My analogy is health care — if all health care was emergency rooms and ambulances, you’d have a health care disaster on your hands.

Because there’d be no preventive care. You’d have ambulances everywhere, people getting rushed off. But by the time you have emergency care, it’s too late.

People get engaged in looking for better satellites or mapping or sensors thinking: If we get better at reacting, we’ll solve the problem.

But that’s not true. If nature picks the time, place and conditions to start a fire, and you run around and deal — then you’re a moron. You’re just playing defense. You can’t win any contest by playing defense.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

3 thoughts on “Congress solicits advice on wildland fire research”

  1. Howdy Bill

    Doubling the budget of the Joint Fire Science program is a great idea. We also need real time monitoring of fire spread and fire behavior which would be well worth the cost. The testimony in Congress that you shared is on track.



  2. More prescribed fire and some types of logging can reduce the amount of unwanted fire. But there are large remote fire prone areas that are too expensive to treat and/or have no commercial timber. Some logging increases fire danger by leaving drying residue. Also some natural wildfires have benefits and we don’t fully understand ecological impacts of shifting when burning occurs. Prescribed fires still make smoke and we are not infallible at selecting which fires are safe to let burn so we need better fire behavior knowledge to help suppress fires, determine evacuation orders, and predict smoke transport. And since we’ll always have smoke we need improved ability to warn the public and understand the complex effects of smoke on human health and climate. JFSP typically supported a broad range of these activities.

  3. The secret is simple its called livestock on the range. It would be cheaper to suspend federal grazing fees in order to control the ranges. Failure by government officials to do this will result in larger and deadlier wildfires. Sheep are particularly effective when properly channeled to reduce the growth of super flammable chest grass. Bands of sheep can be herded through an area to create firebreaks. Why spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year fighting fires when you can allow livestock to do it for free?


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