There seems to be a misunderstanding in what is often referred to loosely as wildfire risk. Risk for anything is calculated by combining the probability or chance that an event occurs and the consequence of that event occurring. We do things to manage risk that can change either the chance that the event occurs, the consequence of the event occurring, or both. The COVID-19 vaccine is a perfect example of changing both, by decreasing the chance that you get COVID-19 and the consequence if you do (decreased severe illness).
In wildfire terms, I keep seeing news stories and quotes from elected leaders that forest management is going to reduce wildfire risk or, in the most poor representation of the concept, treatments will stop wildfires. In terms of the risk equation, the chance that a wildfire occurs is the result of having an ignition source when the vegetation and weather will support that ignition turning into a fire. The consequence of the fire depends on how and where the fire burns.
We have no shortage of ignitions on our flammable landscapes in the US. This year, in the western US, we have severe drought conditions that mean there is a greater chance that an ignition will cause vegetation to combust because dry vegetation is more flammable than wet vegetation. What we really care about though is the consequence of a wildfire occurring and this is where forest and vegetation management come into play.
As I have written about before (here and here), when you have more vegetation and it becomes drier, fires can become more impactful because they are releasing substantial amounts of energy that can lead to things like a fire creating its own weather. Managing vegetation reduces the chance that a fire creates its own weather because there is less energy stored in vegetation. Managing vegetation also helps create conditions that allow wildland firefighters to more easily protect homes and it changes the effects of the fire on the vegetation that is present on the landscape.
The basic fact is that we cannot exclude fire from our landscapes. We have plenty of ignitions and climate change is making the vegetation more flammable. We also have a surplus of vegetation in a number of areas because we have been excluding fire for decades. We are trying to change the risk with forest management by changing the way the fire burns on the landscape. We also need to work on making homes less flammable and managing vegetation in the wildland urban interface to help reduce risk, but that is a topic for another day.
When you hear or read about reducing wildfire risk, this is really about changing the way that fire behaves on the landscape. When you hear someone talk about forest management stopping fire, know that is incorrect and we cannot stop fire. Managing vegetation to change fire behavior is one of the solutions that we have at the local level for managing the risk of high-consequence wildfires.
Teakettle Experimental Forest 2021 Field Crew
We are hiring 8 to 12 field technicians to work at the Teakettle Experimental Forest for the 2021 summer field season. The Teakettle Experimental Forest is a 1300 ha old-growth, mixed-conifer forest located 80 km east of Fresno, CA in the southern Sierra Nevada. The 2021 field season will focus on collecting pretreatment data for a catchment wide prescribed burn that will be implemented in the fall of 2021. The crew will be tasked with establishing experimental plots, mapping forest structure using a surveyor’s total station, basic tree measurements, and conducting fuels transect surveys. Additionally, a subset of the crew will be tasked with conducting understory vegetation surveys and identifying the local flora to the species level. The crew will also assist visiting scientists with their projects as needed. These projects may include basic soils work (coring, soil moisture, etc.), seedling inventories, and tree coring. Desired skills include plant identification, use of a total station, basic knowledge of tree measurements, and previous experience working as a crewmember. The facilities at Teakettle are rustic due to the remote location of the station. The cabin has solar power, bathrooms, a kitchen and common space; individuals will spend the summer sleeping in tents. The nearest town for supplies is Shaver Lake, CA, approximately a 1-hour drive from the field station. There is no WIFI or cellphone service at the field station.
The pay rate is $15/hour and crew members will work four 10-hour days each week with 3-day weekends. The field season will run for 12 weeks from the middle of June to early September. The official start date will be determined in late April.
Preference will be given to applicants who have spent at least one season working on a field crew or have experience working at a remote field location. Preference will also be given to applicants who have prior experience with plant identification, basic tree measurements (i.e., DBH), line-intercept sampling or using a total station.
How to Apply:
To apply, you will need to apply through the University of New Mexico’s Job Portal. First, go to UNM Jobs (https://unmjobs.unm.edu/) and select “Search for a Job”. In the search bar, search “req14099”, “Field Research Tech/Life Sci”, or “Teakettle”. Once the listing has appeared, select “Apply Now”. In your cover letter, please specify if you have an interest in working on the understory vegetation surveys. Review of applications will begin on February 1, 2021. Applications will be reviewed until all positions have been filled. Please note that a New Mexico Driver’s License IS NOT REQUIRED for this position.
If you have any questions regarding the application process or about the Teakettle project, please contact Marissa Goodwin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Link to Teakettle Website:
The Earth Systems Ecology Lab (www.hurteaulab.org) at the University of New Mexico is recruiting a postdoctoral researcher with a strong background in spatial data analysis and programming to contribute to a project to develop a tool for forest restoration priority planning in California. The objectives of this position include developing spatial layers of forest condition and wildfire risk for a watershed in northern California using a process that is extensible to forest lands statewide. The position will include regular engagement with California state agencies responsible for managing state forest lands.
This is an 18 month position, beginning early 2021. Salary is $48,000 per year, plus benefits. Required qualifications include a PhD in ecology, ecosystem science, earth/environmental sciences, or statistics and programming experience with R.
Applicants should submit a cover letter detailing research interests and goals, a complete CV, and names and contact information for three references to Matthew Hurteau (email@example.com). Review of applications will begin on 10 DEC 2020.
The University of New Mexico is committed to hiring and retaining a diverse workforce. We are an Equal Opportunity Employer, making decisions without regard to race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, age, veteran status, disability, or any other protected class.