Forests, Fires, and People
A four-part webinar series presented by the Institute for Science and Policy and the Center for Collaborative Conservation
Sponsored by Gates Family Foundation
Watch all episodes on demand
The western United States has entered a new era of wildfires, no longer limited to a single distinct “season,” but rather a year-round burn regime due to hotter, drier conditions and increased human settlement in wildland areas. Forest management is a complex societal question inextricably linked to science, policy, and culture. The reality of living with bigger, more destructive blazes brings challenging tradeoffs around regulation, jurisdiction, risk tolerance, funding, mitigation, and forest health. How can stakeholders better work together to create sustainable and equitable solutions for all?
In our new four-part webinar series, we’ll hear wide-ranging conversations from around the region around the decisions, impacts, and stewardship principles that guide our collective approach to forest management and fire. Each episode will feature diverse voices and perspectives focused on exploring potential solutions and finding common ground.
Wildfires are a natural phenomenon and have long played a key role in promoting the broader ecological health of forests. But for humans, living amidst fire is a delicate balancing act. As management practices have shifted away from prescribed burns and population growth has driven more settlement in wildland areas, the risk of catastrophe from any given blaze has only increased. On top of that, climate change has created hotter, drier conditions, turning already burn-prone western forests into a tinder box of available fuel just waiting for ignition. The result: a new era of larger, more destructive megafires that threaten homes and lives like never before.
Presenters: Tim Brown, Research Professor of Climatology at the Desert Research Institute, and Camille Stevens-Rumann, Assistant Professor of Forest & Rangeland Stewardship in Colorado State University’s Warner College of Nature Resources.
Colorado’s three largest fires in recorded history all occurred in 2020, collectively burning more than 625,000 acres while damaging homes and costing lives. Our changing climate suggests that this devastating year may have been a glimpse into the future. Decades of population growth in the wildland-urban interface combined with regulatory policies and changes in forestry practices have left the region vulnerable to more destructive blazes, leaving policymakers and scientists with a challenging question: What have we learned, and what decisions might we consider in the future to protect ourselves and our forests?
Presenters: Jen Kovecses, Executive Director of the Coalition for Poudre River Watershed; Russ Schumacher, Colorado State Climatologist and Director of the Colorado Climate Center; and Monte Williams, Forest Supervisor for the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and Pawnee National Grassland.
Part Three: The Human Element
Watch the full episode and read the recap
Wildfire’s impacts are deeply personal and affect us in numerous ways. Fires destroy property and, tragically, often cost lives. They can contaminate the nearby air and water. They require significant resources in the form of mitigation funding and first responders. Fires have also been shown to have a disproportionate impact on low income households and people of color, who may be among the last to receive aid. The question of how and if humans can sustainably live in increasingly fire-prone areas is complicated and tied to cultural identity values that are often at odds. Still, shared stewardship of our forests has never been more crucial.
Presenters: Heather Hansen, journalist and author of Wildfire: On the Front Lines with Station 8, Wendy Koenig, Mayor of Estes Park, Colorado; and Christopher Roos, Professor of Anthropology at Southern Methodist University
Fires are here to stay, and the complex challenge of managing western forests will require creative, multi-dimensional solutions in the years to come. In our final episode, we’ll be taking the long view, examining lingering barriers as well potential opportunities for collaboration and common ground. The application of the best available science and information will only be a start; lasting change may also require new strategies in policy, regulation, and jurisdiction, not to mention a fresh cultural approach to our relationship with fire. How will mitigation and recovery efforts be funded going forward? How will climate change shape the future? And when it comes to living in the wildland-urban interface, how much risk is too much?
Presenters: Angela Boag, Policy Advisor on Climate Change, Forest Health and Energy for Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources; Tony Cheng, Professor in the Department of Forest & Rangeland Stewardship and Director of the Colorado Forest Restoration Institute at Colorado State University; and Ray Rasker, Co-Founder and former Executive Director of Headwaters Economics
The Institute for Science & Policy is committed to publishing diverse perspectives in order to advance civil discourse and productive dialogue. Views expressed by contributors do not necessarily reflect those of the Institute, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, or its affiliates.