The Burned Area Learning Network addresses post-fire impacts to ecosystems and communities


Wildfires in the West are increasing in size and severity, and are impacting more communities. While we recognize fire as an inevitable and essential process in our wildlands, in many cases the size and severity of fires we see today deviate from what is considered "natural" and beneficial. And the impacts to society and ecosystems do not end when burning stops. Post-fire processes—flooding, erosion, invasive species incursion and loss of forest watershed function—can last for decades and have profound impacts on communities far outside the original fire boundary and to species reliant on intact forests. Climate change not only exacerbates the severity of fire, but in some areas it also creates uncertainty around post-fire vegetative recovery. In the Southwest, there are concerns that severely burned landscapes in pine and mixed conifer forests will not transition back to forest conditions because of further drying and warming of conditions.
Decades of support for fire science and management has led to a generally good understanding of how fire behaves, and coordinated fire management by the agencies responsible. Funding—and understanding—of good post-fire practices, coordinated response and long-term outcomes after severe fire is much weaker. The full cost of wildfire—which includes direct fire-related casualties, natural resource and property losses, as well as the longer-term post-fire losses due to flooding, erosion impacts to air and water quality, healthcare costs, damage to businesses and water and transportation infrastructure—is anywhere from two to thirty times greater than the cost of suppression alone. Unfortunately, money for post-fire mitigation is limited in amount, scope and availability. For example, while the Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) program provides short-term funding and expertise immediately following a fire on federal landscapes, there is no program designed to address long term management of burned areas.

Why a Burned Area Learning Network?

Large, high-severity wildfires leave a complex, multi-faceted or "wicked" problem in their wake. Response and recovery includes addressing overlapping immediate and chronic impacts to people and ecosystems that can last for decades. Post-fire response across multiple jurisdictions and organizations is often uncoordinated, and inadequate, following a major wildfire event. Learning networks provide a way to successfully attack wicked problems because they bring together people working on different elements of the post-fire problem, who can then effectively share their solutions with many other people, who in turn offer their own take on the questions and answers important to them. Frequently, highly complex problems require a change of culture as well as tools. Crossing disciplinary, organizational and geographical barriers to get to good solutions is something networks do best.

The goal of the Burned Area Learning Network (BALN) is to accelerate learning by peer-to-peer knowledge sharing to improve social and ecological outcomes following wildfire. Through our collaborative efforts we seek to:

    • improve the accuracy and utility of short- and long-term post-fire risk assessment;
    • increase worker safety during burned area assessment and restoration;
    • improve inter- and intra-agency relationships and policies; and
    • develop new science-based cooperative strategies for post fire response.

The premise of the BALN is that is that we can achieve better outcomes by conducting pre-fire planning that includes post-fire response. We can engage communities and land managers in a non-emergency setting and provide the most efficient way to integrate the existing science, share lessons learned, and develop an adaptive feedback mechanism to incorporate new information.

The BALN is a recent initiative of the Fire Learning Network (FLN), and partners with the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network (FAC Net). The effort began in New Mexico, and continues to grow partnerships regionally and nationally.

 

Resources & Publications

Report:           State of the Knowledge About Post-Fire Response


FLN Notes from the Field:

May 2017:      Learning after Wildfire: Burned Area Learning Network Field Tour (Manzano Mts, NM)

May 2017:      After the Fire: Connecting People, Ideas and Organizations (Wenatchee, WA)

June 2018:     Examining Federal Policies that Guide and Constrain Burned Area Emergency Response Policy on Federal, State and Private Lands

July 2018:      The Greater Santa Fe Fireshed Coalition:
Demonstrating the Value of "Pre-Fire Planning to Improve Post-Fire Response"

July 2018:      Santa Clara Field Tour and East Jemez Landscape Futures Workshop (includes link to a handout on erosion control structure design & descriptions)



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