Kate Ireland’s vision for Fire Ecology

By Kevin Robertson, PhD, Fire Ecology Scientist

When I was hired by the Tall Timbers Research Department in 2003, I was the first employee given the title "Fire Ecologist" and was instructed to develop a program focused on prescribed fire. Those were the orders of our then Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Miss Kate Ireland. She rightly recognized that the founders of Tall Timbers in 1958 sought first and foremost to objectively study fire’s effects, natural history, and appropriate application for the benefit of wildlife, natural communities, and public safety. As Miss Kate both led and generously supported Tall Timbers, she was vigilant in focusing the priorities of the organization, and the newly formed Fire Ecology Program in particular, on its original cause.

Fire Ecology Technician, Jason Isbell, lights prescribed burn on the Wade Tract, 2009.

Responding to her vision, the Fire Ecology Program has worked to strengthen Tall Timbers’ leadership role in the science of fire ecology. Our areas of interest include the effects of fire regime on natural communities and ecosystems, improved measurement of fire behavior and effects, monitoring burned area and fire severity using remote sensing and other approaches, understanding the historic extent of fire-dependent natural communities, and measuring prescribed fire effects on air quality. It is a tribute to Miss Kate that "fire" is the common component in all we do.

Some of the accomplishments stemming from her renewed emphasis on fire ecology include our national-level leadership in federal initiatives to monitor fire using remote sensing, new and surprising perspectives in the role of fire in promoting carbon sequestration, greater understanding of what defines fire-dependent natural communities and their place on the landscape, and cutting-edge methods for quantifying the impact of prescribed fire on air quality.  These advances help secure a brighter future for prescribed fire and its many benefits, as sought through the vision of Tall Timbers’ founders and the leadership of Miss Kate Ireland.

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