SAFE in Action

***Chapter Highlights 2018***

Clemson University

The first year of the Clemson University Chapter of the Student Association for Fire Ecology was an eventful one. Following our initial interest meeting in October 2017, Helen Mohr, the director of the Consortium of Appalachian Fire Managers and Scientists (CAFMS) and based at Clemson University with the U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station, gave a compelling presentation on her career in fire in early November 2017. Later that month, two graduate students traveled to the AFE 7th International Fire Ecology and Management Congress in Orlando, FL, one of whom (Emily Oakman) won an award for her poster presentation on her Master’s thesis work on the Green River Fire and Fire Surrogate (FFS) Study, the longest-running fire effects study in the Appalachians.

Building on the momentum established in the previous semester, Spring 2018 was a high point for the club. In late February 2018, Clemson SAFE hosted fire professionals of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) South Carolina and Virginia Chapters, whose visit included orientation to fire research at Clemson, lunch with students in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Conservation, and ultimately presentations and a panel on TNC’s use of and perspective on fire in the region. In cooperation with larger ongoing efforts, Clemson SAFE will focus on public engagement in prescribed fire and wildfire science and operations moving forward.

From left to right, Kristen Austin (SC Upstate), Laurel Schablein (VA Allegheny Highlands), Patrick Ma (SC Low Country), and Nikole Simmons (VA Allegheny Highlands), TNC fire professionals answering panel questions following their presentations given during a visit to Clemson University, February 26, 2018.

Humboldt State University

Over the past year, the SAFE chapter at Humboldt State University in Arcata, CA has drastically increased membership enrollment, attended the annual Northern California Prescribed Fire Council meeting, and helped almost all members get red-carded. The club has also put on resume workshops, movie nights, field trips, and speaker series, with more being planned for next semester. Recently, some members attended the Yurok TREX as a 10 person prescribed fire module to gain more knowledge, training, and experience, and bridge the gap between the field and the classroom. More than half of club members fight fire in the summers in states including California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana, with more joining the ranks this upcoming summer.

North Carolina State University

The North Carolina State University SAFE Chapter added 19 new forestry students during the annual Forestry Summer Camp Fire Week.  NCSU students were joined at Summer Camp by 3 Tuskegee University students, 10 Rangers from NC State Parks, and the President of the Forest History Society.  Partners from the NC Forest Service, NC Division of Parks and Recreation, The Nature Conservancy, and NCSU Forestry faculty taught fire courses and field activities to fulfill the requirement for NWCG certification as FFT2 Wildland Fire Fighters.  The highlight of this year’s Fire Week was the participation in a 270 acre longleaf pine restoration prescribed burn at Carvers Creek State Park.  The newly certified fire fighters experienced being part of an engine crew on one flank of the burn, learning how to conduct internal ignitions, protecting and burning out around red cockaded woodpecker cavity trees,  and doing mop up after the burn.

Following Summer Camp Fire Week, two summer growing season burns were conducted on the NCSU G.W. Hill Forest (a 2,450 acre forest established in 1929 as a forestry and wildlife teaching laboratory).  The goal of the 2018-2019 prescribed fire season is to increase the acres burned on NCSU experimental forests and to partner on NC Parks and The Nature Conservancy prescribed burns.  The NCSU SAFE Chapter received a generous fire equipment grant again this summer from the NC Board of Directors of the National Wild Turkey Federation to continue the educational mission of developing new wildfire professionals.

Northern Arizona University

The Northern Arizona University SAFE chapter had speakers talk about the many different aspects of the fire world, a group of our students attended a TREX in New Jersey, and provided educational outreach to schoolchildren in cooperation with the NAU Centennial Forest and Kids for Conservation.

Some of our speakers this year included an international graduate student talking about fires in Indonesia and the effects of palm oil plantations on native ecosystems. We had representatives from The Nature Conservancy talk about work they are doing on Hart Prairie and with Bebb willow preservation, and then went out with them to do fuels reduction and chain saw training. A fire manager from the Kaibab National Forest provided situational awareness training and a local District ranger gave career advice.

Last spring break we sent six students to New Jersey to learn about prescribed fire operations in the Pine Barrens. They took a ride in a helicopter, learned about the local fire towers, visited cranberry bogs, saw how New Jersey makes all their custom brush trucks, and even got to help with suppression on an unexpected fire. We would love to return with a new group of students this year.

Our educational program goes to local schools, has children come visit the University, and teaches at a booth at the county fair. Children learn about our rebar forest, which simulates fire in a thinned and un-thinned forest by burning rebar and newspaper trees. We also talk to children about the gear firefighters use, and explain the difference in “good” and “bad” fire.

We are proud of our yearly commitment to getting our students trained to become wildland firefighters. Thanks to the Arizona Dept. of Forestry and Fire Management, we were able to have 17 of our members get their S-130 and S-190 certificates. We also held workshops to help students with their resumes and navigate the federal USAJOBS hiring process.

Oregon State University

In addition to attending our regular meetings this year, our members participated in a variety of fire training opportunities, conferences and meetings, and prescribed burns. With financial support from the SAFE group, members were able to receive fire training at TREX in Bend (Audrey MacLennan) and in Ashland (Christal Johnson, Anna Talucci, Will Downing, and Andrew Neary). For many members, this was their first prescribed burn experience and they were able to complete tasks for qualification as NWCG FFT2. Members also attended a variety of conferences, including the Association for Fire Ecology Fire Continuum Conference in Missoula, the Society of American Foresters conference in Portland, the Ecological Society of America conference in New Orleans, and the Western Mensurationists meeting in Flagstaff. Audrey MacLennan was especially active in attending council and committee meetings, including the Oregon/Washington Prescribed Fire Council meeting and the Economic Commission for Europe Committee on Forests and the Forest Industry. Karin Wolken led organization of the Western Forestry Graduate Research Symposium, hosted by the OSU College of Forestry. Many members helped to organize this symposium and presented research there. Will Downing, Anna Talucci, and Thomas Stokley have all worked with The Nature Conservancy in Willamette Valley to assist with prescribed burns, after Anna began her fire training at the Ashland TREX.

Stephen F. Austin State University

This fall has been a time a growth in interest for the SFA chapter. Last spring was marked by large amounts of rain that limited the opportunities to help with prescribed fire with the Angelina National Forest. Beginning this fall we had a surge of interest with many incoming freshmen interested in getting involved with the Forest Service and other prescribed fire outlets. We began working very closely with a local land management firm to encourage those who had no experience to become acquainted with being around fire. Again, due to increased rainfall has made burning opportunities slim.

Despite the setbacks, the chapter was able to plan and construct a shaded fuel break on campus property to uphold the Fire Wise Certification for out campus. Many students are completing the s-190/s-130 trainings and we will have 15-20 members with current certifications come spring time. Meetings every other Wednesday have provided the opportunity to have lessons on equipment, radio usage, tactics and a chance to discuss fire behavior seen in the Western U.S. We are looking forward to the Spring when we will be able to send multiple crews a month to work with U.S. Forest Service as they prep and burn.

University of Florida

This year’s chapter of S.A.F.E at University of Florida is in full swing and planning a Spring Break trip to The Nature Conservancy’s Disney Wilderness Preserve in Osceola County, Fl.  During this annual week-long trip, our participating club members have the opportunity to receive their red card in addition to contributing to the maintenance of this fire-frequented ecosystem. The crew will stay in preserve cabins, light prescribed fires when weather conditions are favorable, and explore the unique ecosystem that sits near the headwaters that supply the Everglades. Leading up to this week-long burn of the Happiest Place on Earth (or at least, the Happiest Wilderness Preserve on Earth), our members will meet to study and train for the S-130/ S-190 certification and pack test. 

In other news, the Flatwoods Fire and Nature Festival will be hosted at the University of Florida’s forest research property, Austin Cary Forest, in January. S.A.F.E members will have a booth providing educational materials about the role of fire for maintaining the natural Florida landscape as well as fire safety tips and answers to F.A.Q.s. We will also be working to make the day a success by helping with logistics like parking cars and directing guests to a variety of planned activities, including prescribed fire demonstrations. It wouldn’t be a fire festival without an appearance by everyone’s favorite ursine mascot, so Smokey Bear will be roaming around for photo opportunities.

University of Montana

The Fire Continuum Conference was held this past summer in Missoula, Montana and one of our members happened to have some spare time to help with the ignitions during the small prescribed burn at Lubrecht Experimental Forest for the conference. Most of our members were already in the field during the Fire Continuum and could not help with the activities. Duty locations of club members ranged from Bonner’s Ferry, Idaho all the way to Fort Howes, Montana. The distance between the duty locations is around 700 miles!

Nearly every member of UMSAFEM had a fire related job over the summer. Many students had fire suppression jobs in the Bitterroot and one student in specific, William Thibeault, worked on the North Hegler fire in Idaho on the Sawtooth National Forest. William has been very active in UMSAFEM serving a semester as the gear manager and recently elected as the organization’s vice president. Before his career in fire started, he worked with UMSAFEM burning piles and aiding in prescribed burns at Lubrecht Experimental Forest. He has also attended the Fire Practicum, a three-credit course that has historically happened over winter break at University of Montana. In the Bitterroot National Forest, Will’s duty location is the West Fork Ranger District, a remote district that borders the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness. The summer of 2017 marked his first season in fire suppression and it became quickly apparent to him that fire management would become a large part of his career goals. Currently William is working on his FFT1 to help achieve his goals.

William Thibeault conducts a burn out on the North Hegler fire in 2018 as a part of the Bitterroot Regulars, a type 2IA handcrew. (Photo courtesy of William Thibeault)

University of Missouri

Mizzou SAFE is proud of our outgoing president, Mary Wachuta, for graduating from the University of Missouri with her master’s degree in forestry. Her thesis focused on the accuracy of fire models in predicting mortality in hardwood forests. She found that the First Order Fire Effects Model overpredicts mortality and suggested some ways that future fire studies in the eastern hardwood region could improve model accuracy. While completing her Masters and taking on a leadership role in MU SAFE, Mary also served as a volunteer firefighter and active member of the mid-missouri fire community. Luckily she will not be far away, working for the Nature Conservancy as a prescribed burn crew member in southern, MO.

Another SAFE member graduated in 2018 with their undergraduate degree in meteorology and is now pursuing a masters in Atmospheric Science in South Dakota with intentions of becoming a fire weather specialist. Chris Woody said that participation in MU SAFE had a big influence on his decision to focus on fire weather. MU Meteorology club members continue to attend SAFE meetings due to his encouragement.

Several of MU SAFE’s members worked as wildland firefighters over the summer of 2018.

Aidan Cornelison worked for the Sawtooth National Forest as a fuels technician. This job allowed her to gain diverse training about fuel moisture monitoring, aspen habitat restoration, and fuels reduction projects, as well as experience working as a wildland firefighter as an engine crewmember, and as a member of an interagency handcrew. As the new MU SAFE president, Aidan is looking forward to picking up where Mary left off in order to maintain the local fire restoration projects, and to continue networking with the community in order to restore the fire adapted ecosystems of the mid-west.

MU SAFE Crew - Spring 2018 after a tallgrass prairie restoration burn. From left: Aidan Cornelison, Sarah Lalk, Chris Woody, Mary Wachuta

University of Wisconsin Stevens Point

The SAFE chapter at UWSP facilitated several NWCG trainings over the past year.  We held S-212, S-211, and S-219.  We will most likely be having S-131 in the spring as well.  In addition to this, we have classes in the spring and the fall for students and community members to get their basic wildland firefighting certifications.  In addition to this, we attended the Michigan Burning Issues Workshop and the Wisconsin Winter Fire Workshop.  We plan to attend both these again this year.

Several of our SAFE members worked fire jobs over the summer, including Kelley Harkins.  This past summer was her second student fire season as a seasonal Forestry Technician for Superior National Forest on the Tofte Ranger District. As a crew member on a Type 6 engine module, fuels work, prescribed burning and fire suppression were her main duties. Having attended two AFE conferences during her time as an undergraduate, she was able to re-connect with professionals she met at these events on the fire line during the summer. As a member of University of Wisconsin Stevens Point's SAFE chapter, she had the opportunities to make connections that will benefit her future career.

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