Rx FireRxScience: Collaborative Research to Advance Effective Prescribed Fire Application

At its core, prescribed fire is something one must experience. It is by trial and error that managers learn to manipulate fire to accomplish their objectives—my mentors certainly still point to my “learning moments.” It’s the error part, however, that society is less tolerant of but that science can help managers avoid. 

Through the recently created Prescribed Fire Science Consortium (RxScience), Tall Timbers, the US Forest Service, managers, and researchers from across the country have teamed up to focus on the pressing needs of prescribed fire science. This group intends to address the problems of predicting fire behavior of ignition patterns, resulting smoke transport, and fire effects from a collaborative approach that grew out of my experience at Eglin Air Force Base.

Prescribed fire is a wonderfully complex mix of physics, chemistry, atmospheric science, and forest ecology all wrapped up in a day’s work. Because of this complexity, interdisciplinary teams are needed to advance our understanding of prescribed fire and how it works on the landscape. Just as importantly, since experience is the key to learning, managers must be part of any team from the beginning.

Fire SimulationThis RxScience effort is directed by a core team which is developing a 5-year plan to direct activities of an annual fire research event to be held at Tall Timbers. These events beginning in April of 2017 will focus on a priority prescribed-fire topic (e.g., fuel characteristics) to be studied through comprehensive measurements of fire behavior, winds, and forest stands. This effort will ultimately develop new tools for practitioners, but also directly answer questions that arise from managers on key prescribed fire topics. Tall Timbers’ proximity to many frequently burned lands and its history of supporting research through burning provides an ideal setting for RxScience activities.    

For some prescribed fire managers for whom burning is a long-standing part of their cultural heritage, science may not appear a limiting factor for the continued application of prescribed fire. However, the rapid pace of change around us, including social acceptance, urban development, climate change, and balancing competing management objectives, begs for a better understanding of the process many of us think we know. The RxScience collaboration will pursue the questions most needed to improve effective fire management by providing the firm scientific basis on which prescribed fire will continue to stand well in to the future.

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