Clemson professor receives grant to educate public about fire management
CLEMSON — Although fires have roared through the Appalachian Mountains devouring thousands of acres since October, a Clemson University professor wants people to understand not all fires are bad.
Rob Baldwin, a forestry and environmental conservation professor, has received a three-year grant for $216,000 from the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Services to fund outreach activities for the Consortium of Appalachian Fire Managers and Scientists.
“Fire is a natural part of forests,” Baldwin said. “It is made worse by poor fire management. We want to teach people how to properly use fire to prevent fire-related disasters, such as what we’re now seeing in the Appalachian Mountains.”
The Consortium, headquartered at Clemson, is comprised of fire managers and researchers who work in the field of fire science. It will hold prescribed fire public meetings, a fire communications workshop and publish a newsletter and other means of communicating with the public about fire management.
Helen Mohr, Consortium director, said the mission of the Consortium is to facilitate the flow of information about fire science and research needs among managers and scientists in the Appalachian region.
“The fire managers are out in the field every day and they have a good feel for what research is needed,” said Mohr, who also is a forester with the United States Forest Service. “The Consortium communicates this message to the scientists who conduct the research to provide solutions to fire-related issues.”
People can learn about proper fire management from materials provided by the Consortium, including webinars and workshops, as well as its website www.appalachianfire.org. Webinars currently available on the website include Finding the Best Science Available on Fire Ecology and Fire Regimes of Northeastern, Great Lakes and Appalachian Ecosystems. This webinar provides managers and planners with information about historical fire regimes and changes in fuels and fire regimes to make informed management decisions.
Other information found on the website includes analysis tools, research briefs and fact sheets, references and guides, and workshop materials and presentations.
In addition to the web-based tools, the Consortium also has The Fire Learning Trail.
“The Fire Learning Trail is an enhanced interpretive trail in Pisgah National Forest near the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area,” said Jenifer Bunty, information coordinator for the Consortium. “It introduces visitors to the role of fire in this area as well as wildland firefighters and local history.”
The trail includes educational signs and a podcast-style audio tour that is available on free CDs at the Linville Gorge Information Cabin. The audio tour also can be downloaded from www.appalachianfire.org/thefirelearningtrail/ or iTunes.
Don Hagan, a Clemson assistant professor of forest ecology, serves on the Consortium’s board of directors and agrees that knowledge of proper fire management is needed.
“Fire is a natural process,” Hagan said. “Many of the plant communities in the southern Appalachians evolved into an environment where fire — whether caused by lightning or by humans — was historically frequent. Decades of fire suppression has led to the degradation of these plant communities and the accumulation of dangerously high amounts of fuel (sticks, leaves, etc.). This problem is compounded by the fact that the southern Appalachians has a huge wildland-urban interface. That is lots of people have built their homes adjacent to natural areas and those natural areas are now highly susceptible to a severe wildfire.”
Hagan said educating the public about fire serves two important purposes.
“First of all, it helps the public understand that prescribed fire is necessary for the sustenance of the landscapes and forests that they hold dear,” he said. “And, two, it makes the public aware of the risks associated with living in a fire-prone environment.”
The Consortium also posts information to its social network sites. Use #goodfire to follow the Consortium on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr.
The Consortium is one of 15 knowledge exchange networks supported by the Joint Fire Science Program.