Igniting Exchange 2018 Recap

Exchange. Ignited.

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Igniting Exchange was the biggest joint initiative between the North Atlantic Fire Science Exchange and the Northeastern Forest Fire Protection Compact to date. Every year, the Compact holds a Winter Awareness Meeting with a range of speakers and topics in wildfire suppression and fire management. This year, however, NAFSE was able to partner with the Compact and provide over 30 speakers with a focus on fire science and management needs in the North Atlantic region. Approximately 220 people signed-up for the meeting. Planning led by Amanda Mahaffey of NAFSE and Tom Parent of the Compact pulled in all aspects of both organizations, leveraging the talents of each. The NAFSE Community Reps and the Compact Working Teams were also integral to planning a true partners event.

The meeting week began with several pre-meetings of groups utilizing Igniting Exchange to advance fire management in the Northeast. On Monday, the Northeast Regional Strategy Committee (NE RSC) for the Cohesive Strategy met face to face. It was a great kickoff to the narrative that we hoped would continue for the rest of the week. The discussion touched on updating wildfire risk assessments, improving prescribed fire coordination and resource availability between states, and increasing engagement with local firefighters. 

  Northeast Regional Strategy Committee face to face meeting

Northeast Regional Strategy Committee face to face meeting

On Tuesday morning, the Compact held its working team meetings, and NAFSE leaders participated in the Fire Science Working Team meeting. The Fire Science Working Team discussed the feasibility of a regional prescribed fire council and the adoption of Compact-wide technology.

On Tuesday afternoon, the NAFSE Leadership Team hosted our annual face-to-face meeting with our Community Representatives. The Community Reps are tasked with keeping the Leadership Team up to date on current happenings throughout the region as well as topics of interest in their communities. Our renewal proposal was the biggest topic on the agenda. Our Reps had comments on the proposal as well as potential topics to add, such as: pollinator interactions with prescribed fire, interactions between invasives and prescribed fire, and the social and ecological issues of reintroducing fire on the landscape. We had a productive conversation with our guest Jack McGowan-Stinski of the Lake States Fire Science Consortium centered around students and incorporating more activities to involve interested universities and colleges across our region. For example, NAFSE could propose guest lectures to get students, departments and deans interested in promoting more wildland fire science courses into their programs. This conversation was enhanced by the presence of numerous students sponsored to come to Igniting Exchange, several of whom are also part of our Virtual Fire Science Lab group. Each student shared his or her interests, and in response, Community Reps chimed in with ideas or contacts for the students to pursue. We discussed providing mentor connections for the students within our NAFSE network. This meeting provided us up to date topics of interest and concerns and were directly incorporated in our renewal proposal.

Community representative meeting of the North Atlantic Fire Science Exchange (top). Student discussion portion of the meeting (bottom).

On Wednesday, the audience was introduced to the co-chairs for the day: one member of the Compact and one member of NAFSE’s leadership team. The idea of daily co-chairs was important in representing the voices of both scientists and managers. The morning reports from the Compact working groups on Wednesday gave an excellent overview of what managers are thinking about and dealing with on a daily basis, and how the Compact aids them in their work. Before lunch, we were treated to the keynote speaker provided by the Compact, David Cooper, a retired Navy SEAL who gave an inspiring speech on behavior-driven leadership. Central themes in his talk included the importance of honesty from your group as well as the ability to take criticism and improve your leadership skills.

Opening remarks by Tom Parent (left). David Cooper, keynote speaker (right).

After lunch, we arrived at the heart of the program, which was organized by soliciting speakers on focused topics and providing a logical progression in each session. The first session was on the Gatlinburg fires and began with Steve Norman, who put the Gatlinburg fire in the regional context and put the 2016 fire season into context with other historical fire seasons. Next up was Henri Grissino-Mayer out the of the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, who took us on a virtual trip of the progression of the Gatlinburg fire, from the week leading up to the fire, the lightning-fast blowup, and after-fire reactions from all perspectives. Finally, we had Matt Lovitt out of the Pigeon Forge Fire Department give his perspective of the operations of the fire and some of the knowledge gaps and miscommunication that occurred. This session provided a great combination of the larger picture of the fire season, the week leading up to the event, and in-the-moment decisions that had to be made with the information at hand.

  Panel on Gatlinburg/Appalachian 2016 fires with Dr. Steve Norman, Dr. Henri Grissino-Myers and Matt Lovitt.

Panel on Gatlinburg/Appalachian 2016 fires with Dr. Steve Norman, Dr. Henri Grissino-Myers and Matt Lovitt.

Our next session focused on smoke models and fire weather. First, Mike Kiefer started off with an overview of smoke models and how they work. (NAFSE also has a research brief based on the smoke model review paper that Mike referred to in his talk). Although these models can get quite technical, Mike was able to distill the models down, explaining the main differences between them and what they are best used for. This served as a great lead-in to Joel Carlson’s real-life uses of the smoke models that Mike had just described. Joel provided a great perspective of someone that uses science-based tools on a regular basis to plan prescribed fires. Finally, Eric Evenson of the National Weather Service gave us a great overview of the fire weather information available online for our region. Eric also introduced us to the new website that the fire science working group has put together for the Compact which incorporates all of the Northeast focused fire weather websites into one website.

Once the afternoon session was concluded, attendees perused the posters, discussed the results with the authors, and checked out numerous high-tech vendors in the back of the room. We finished off the evening with the banquet where the Compact gave out several yearly awards, the Karl Kenyon gadget hour was conducted and judged with much mirth, and the NAFSE leadership team presented Compact director, Tom Parent with a thank-you gift of a NAFSE T-shirt. Several people noted that many attendees stayed an exceptionally long time at the banquet talking and getting to know each other rather than leaving for other venues.

  Evening banquet.

Evening banquet.

On Thursday, after breakfast, the group was asked to attend the session of their choice. New Jersey’s Pinelands: A Fire Science and Management Playground was offered in the main meeting room downstairs, while the Technology Tools session took place upstairs. Highlights from upstairs included Alex Entrup of Northeast Forest & Fire Management, LLC sporting his handy iPad holder field setup with apps that he uses daily, and Bob Kremens of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute explaining the physics of fire and how you measure it in an engaging and understandable manner. Presenters were encouraged to ‘bring it home’ to their audience and explain how their technology can help managers with decision-making and day-to-day operations.

  Yale University student Emily Dolhansky.

Yale University student Emily Dolhansky.

The New Jersey session downstairs was equally information-packed with Ken Clark, Mike Gallagher, and Nick Skowronski of the USDA Forest Service detailing some of the work that has come out of over ten years of focused research on fire, carbon flux, and remote sensing in the pinelands of New Jersey. Strong partnerships between state, federal and non-profit organizations have been key to the success of this research. The three talks offered at Igniting Exchange highlighted the latest in the results of this collaborative atmosphere.

The second dual morning sessions were flash talks and a session on fire, fuels and silvicultural tools. The flash talk session was so varied and interesting it is difficult to summarize here; however, one highlight included Jack McGowan-Stinski’s talk on growing season burns and breaking down some of the long-held beliefs that surround the exclusion of these burns. Our three student presenters, Emily Dolhansky, Noémie Gonzalez, and Casey Olechnowicz all gave great presentations about their current projects with thought provoking question-and-answer sessions after each. Participants appreciated the diversity of topics, but perhaps more significantly, the presentations exposed the audience to research and management questions that still need to be answered.

Downstairs the discussion focused on the interactions of mechanical treatments and prescribed fire. The first speaker, Jake McCumber, is charged with balancing the Army’s needs for training grounds with rare species habitat needs and fire safety. He achieves these goals through partnerships and the integration of silvicultural tools with fire. Next, Jack McGowan-Stinski of the Lake States Fire Science Consortium shared an approach to invasive species controls by blending fire ecology and prescribed fire, with an emphasis on using the seasonality of the species and fire effects to guide decision-making. Finally, Helen Mills Poulos from Wesleyan University shared lessons from a research project on the effects of mowing and prescribed fire in rare coastal sandplain grasslands, emphasizing the influence of human values in determining restoration goals.

Throughout Igniting Exchange, our hardy lunches and sweet-filled breaks did not disappoint. These times of socialization provided an opportunity for new partnerships to form and new contacts to be made. For example, during lunch on Thursday, NAFSE and Compact leaders met with Jon Regosin and Caren Caljouw from MassWildlife and Neil Gifford from the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission to discuss how we could team up for a new multi-state project establishing a network of treatment sites for pollinators in xeric habitats in the Northeast. Participants also had the opportunity to catch up with speakers and dive deeper into discussions about issues in fire science and management during our breaks. 

Pollinator group discussing partnerships (left). Breaks with vendors, posters, and discussion (right).

The afternoon sessions were once again held in the main downstairs room to share the latest information on spatial tools in fire management. Greg Dillon showed us the different elements that make up a good wildland fire risk assessment and stressed the importance of local involvement. Chris “Fern” Ferner showed us the latest and greatest in operational GIS capabilities such as the Collector tool for the audience to check out, and Danny Lee gave us perspective on how all this spatial data is gathered and used for fire science as well as other relevant disturbances such as insect kills and blowdowns.

  Greg Dillon speaking about wildfire risk assessments.

Greg Dillon speaking about wildfire risk assessments.

Finally, in our last session, consultant Lloyd Irland, Matt Carroll of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Tom Parent of the Compact asked questions about how our current environment stacks up to the extreme events of the past and how prepared we might be for those events now. Brent Ruby gave the audience an idea of how large fires can affect firefighter physiology and how new technology is coming out to help prevent heat exhaustion-related injuries. The themes explored in this session echoed back to the qualities of behavior-driven leaders outlined by the keynote speaker.

At the conclusion of the meeting, co-chair of the day Erin Lane noted that the meeting focused quite a bit around tools, and the following points were necessary to the proper use of technology tools in wildland fire:

1.      Stakeholder involvement from the development
2.     Data-driven, evidence-based science as the foundation for management.
3.     Applicability to the user. If a tool isn’t applicable—it’s not much of a tool.

Closing comments by Erin Lane also summarized the overall feel of the event and how ideas and relationships made at this meeting can serve as the beginning to long-term progress in our region. Erin concluded by pointing out the actions that will help us continue the exchange of ideas.

1.     Connect. We made connections here, so now we must follow-up! Don’t wait. Solidify connections with a phone call or email. Talk again and make plans.
2.     Ask. Next time you have the chance, ask yourself- what’s the science behind this? What’s the applicability of this science? We began with talks focusing on basic science and moved towards more applied science and risk assessments that can lead to on-the-ground changes. Keep asking the questions and before you know it, we will have integrated science and management.
3.     Seek. Find more ways to interact. Look for the science, and take the opportunity to collaborate. Join a field trip, watch a webinar, reach out to a manager or researchers. Get involved and stay involved.

This meeting was meant to ignite exchange. Meeting each other, making that first step, and putting ourselves out there to be questioned and criticized by each other is something that needed to happen.  Exposure was a driving goal for this meeting, and we do feel that more scientists and managers in our region are aware of ‘what’s out there’. However, there is much more work to do, and highlighting projects that have successfully incorporated scientists and managers already, with both parties contributing to the presentation and discussion, seems to be a logical next step. We have already read through many of the evaluation comments and are already thinking of new and better ways to continue our partnership and improve our coordination efforts.

Working with the Northeastern Forest Fire Protection Compact was a breeze and the training and technology working teams and Tom Parent were the best partners we could hope for. NAFSE is honored to be a part of the Compact, and we don’t take it for granted. This meeting was part of a dream seeded several years ago. The North Atlantic doesn’t have the attention of the nation when it comes to fires, but we have the people: good, hard-working, experienced people who are managing lands and researching solutions. Thanks again everyone who attended, helped, and made this a successful event.

Igniting_Exchange_Thankyou.JPG