Five ways to re-envision fire science and stimulate discovery that help communities better navigate our fiery future.
Fires can be both useful to and supportive of human values, safe communities and ecosystems, and threatening to lives and livelihoods. Climate change, fire suppression, and living closer to the wildland-urban interface have helped create a global wildfire crisis. There is an urgent, ethical need to live more sustainably with fire. By re-envisioning fire science we can stimulate discovery that help communities better navigate our fiery future. We argue that only through overcoming institutional silos and accessing knowledge across diverse communities can we effectively undertake research that improves outcomes in our more fiery future.
Fire has historically been studied from distinct disciplines, as an ecological process, a human hazard, or an engineering challenge. In isolation, connections among human and non-human aspects of fire are lost. We need to shift from observation and modeled representations of varying components of climate, people, vegetation, and fire to more integrative and predictive approaches that support pathways towards mitigating and adapting to our increasingly flammable world, including the utilization of fire for human safety and benefit.
Fire is fundamental part of ecosystems globally and has been used to manage landscapes for millennia. Humans change wildfire activity via climate change, fire suppression, land development, and population growth. Altered fire regimes impact health, infrastructure, and ecosystem services. A group of 87 fire experts from many disciplines outlined barriers and opportunities in the next generation of fire science. Understanding, mitigating and managing the impacts of fire require addressing key challenges to inform how we serve environmental and social justice by sustainably living and interacting with fire. Utilizing a coordinated and integrated proactive approach across fire science, social science and ecological research is needed. Knowledge from diverse communities is essential to inform progress to safer and more sustainable communities and ecosystems. Establishing infrastructure and reducing barriers to information will accelerate scientific discovery towards advances that promote fire-resilient communities. Fire experts agree that management, including utilization of fire, is essential to supporting safe communities and ecosystems. Inclusion and consideration of human dimensions and values (where we live and how we impact our world) are critical to forecasting and anticipating future fire. Supporting a holistic and collective approach is fundamental for science to inform policy and action in our more firey world.
Jacquelyn Shuman, National Center for Atmospheric Research, firstname.lastname@example.org
Brian Benscoter (Program Manager), Department of Energy Office of Science, Biological and Environmental Research at Environmental System Science, Brian.Benscoter@science.doe.gov
This material is based upon work supported by the National Center for Atmospheric Research, which is a major facility sponsored by the US National Science Foundation (NSF) under Cooperative Agreement No. 1852977. This manuscript is a product of discussions at the Wildfire in the Biosphere workshop held in May 2021 funded by the NSF through a contract to KnowInnovation. J.K. Shuman was supported as part of the Next Generation Ecosystem Experiments – Tropics, funded by the US Department of Energy, the Office of Science, the Office of Biological and Environmental Research, and by the NASA Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment grant 80NSSC19M0107. R.T. Barnes was supported by the NSF grant DEB-1942068. P.E. Higuera was supported by the NSF grant DEB-1655121. J.K. Balch and E.N. Stavros were supported by CIRES, the University of Colorado Boulder.
J.K. Shuman, et al., “Reimagine fire science for the Anthropocene.”, PNAS Nexus (2022). pgac115, [https://doi.org/10.1093/pnasnexus/pgac115]