Here's my new gig - wildfire management in Hawaii and across the Pacific. Fire is a critical threat to lives and livelihoods in many parts of the state - as well as to the dwindling areas of native forest in Pacific islands. With the establishment and spread of largely exotic grasses and increased drought conditions due to climate change, the frequency and extent of wildfire is only expected to increase. How do we cope with such a dynamic, unpredictable, and potentially devastating force?
Well, I'm learning. I've been hired onto the University of Hawaii's cooperative extension program and put in a position to increase the exchange of knowledge between researchers and management practitioners. The Pacific Fire Exchange is part of a nation-wide push by the Joint Fire Science Program to put science to work for folks dealing with wildfire on the ground.
Hawaii, in particular, has a deep history of miscommunication and misunderstanding (often drifting towards antagonism) between biologists and resource managers. The extent to which the results of research address and inform the practical, dat-to-day needs of managers is generally pretty slim. And, vice versa, there are few opportunities or forums through which researchers can really understand the challenges managers face. For example - researchers know about the positive feedbacks between fire-adapted invasive grasses and wildfire occurrence, but how many researchers actually understand how wildland fire-fighters suppress fires when they happen?
The bottom line, and the underlying principle of the Pacfic Fire Exchange, is that knowledge is a two-way street. The goal is to make science useful and useable.