Three universities are awarded $20 million to make fuel management data more usable for managers

Will also evaluate the results to see what works

Cameron Peak Fire smoke plume at Boyd Lake, InciWeb, October 14, 2020.

In an effort to improve forest resilience and reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires in the Western Interior, three organizations are receiving a total of $20 million from the U.S. government.

The funds are part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed by Congress with bipartisan support and signed by President Joe Biden in 2021, which will be used to improve key systems and processes to mitigate the impact forest fires.

The award will be given to the Southwest Ecological Restoration Institutes (SWERI), which includes the Colorado Forest Restoration Institute (CFRI), the New Mexico Forest and Watershed Restoration Institute at Highlands University, and the Ecological Restoration Institute at Northern Arizona University. SWERI was created by an act of Congress passed in 2004 that directed the three institutes to promote adaptive management practices to restore the health of fire-adapted forest and woodland ecosystems of the Western Interior.

The Colorado Forest Restoration Institute is hosted by the Department of Forest and Rangeland Stewardship at CSU’s Warner College of Natural Resources.

The three institutes will work collaboratively on three key elements with the funding, to:

  • Develop a national database of existing data on fuel treatments and forest fires,
  • Work with managers, planners and decision makers to facilitate the use and applications of data, and,
  • Research forest management and forest fire results to find out what works.

“The work we are charged with developing under the Infrastructure Measure will create opportunities for land and fire managers, scientists and community actors to co-produce actionable knowledge to mitigate the adverse effects of forest fires on people and the environment,” said Tony Cheng. , Director of CFRI and Professor in the Department of Forest and Range Stewardship.

CFRI Geospatial Mapping Products
Boulder County land and fire managers and community stakeholders gathered around CFRI’s geospatial mapping products, aided by CFRI science and outreach staff. Photo by Tony Cheng.

According to Cheng, the new funding aligns with CSU’s land-grant mission and provides an opportunity to expand CFRI’s existing data management, application and research efforts to be accessible to an audience. wider.

The funding is driven by the increase in fire activity and the length of the fire season due to climate change, the continued development of the interface between nature and urban areas and the interactions between fires and disturbances such as pests and pathogens.

CFRI recently completed a statewide forest vegetation and wildfire management database for Colorado, complementing a similar effort for New Mexico and southern Colorado led by the New Mexico Forest and Watershed Restoration Institute. The data serves as the foundation for decision support tools and collaborative processes deployed by CFRI in the state and throughout the Western Interior. The national database will be developed using similar data types across the country.

Data is just the starting point, said Brett Wolk, one of CFRI’s deputy directors. Making the data meaningful to land and fire managers, scientists, policy makers and community stakeholders working in their specific locations is a core function in which the institutes excel and is mentioned in the infrastructure provisions.

“Unless data is placed in a social context where people can understand how it applies to their work, all the best data and science in the world won’t change decisions or outcomes on the ground,” said Wolk. “That’s why SWERI strives to co-develop solutions with partners and make decisions that are science-informed but also locally relevant.”

A third element of funding is to research the results of past treatments to improve future decisions. This will draw on deep research expertise from the Arizona and Colorado institutes, exemplified by a recent CFRI co-led publication and accompanying podcast assessing the achievements of the Forest to Faucets partnership to protect the Denver’s water supply from devastating wildfires.

The challenge, Wolk said, is to apply the knowledge and expertise of collective institutes across the entire United States. At the same time, there is an opportunity for other states to benefit from the collective knowledge of the institutes.

“This is a huge opportunity to help accelerate the implementation of what works in forest and fire management. But the research also shows big gaps in who has access to and contributes to this forest data and decision-making processes. If we can increase the application of science, while making incremental changes to increase the equity of ideas and resources with a wider audience, these will be our measures of success.


From Colorado State University

Thanks and hats off to Gerald.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildfires for 33 years, he continues to learn and strives to be a student of fire. View all posts by Bill Gabbert

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