The Fire Networks work to restore relationships between people and fire—developing viable fire cultures—because we believe that is the best way to address the root causes of our current wildfire challenges. As retired USDA Forest Service researcher Sarah McCaffrey reminds us: “Fire is a biophysical process, but fire management is a social one.” Too often, our wildland fire challenges are framed solely around vegetation problems–“our forests are out of whack” — that leads solely to fuels management solutions. If instead, we frame the challenge as “our culture of fire is broken” that leads to a more nuanced solution set—one where people are at the center and where many more pathways to better fire outcomes are legitimized.
We work with place-based leaders as well as people who work for agencies and institutions at regional, state, and national scales. Our partners have a range of affiliations: Tribal governments and members, businesses, non-profit organizations and universities, fire departments, government agencies, private landowners and engaged residents. Interests are equally varied, and this diversity has helped us build strong, resilient networks.
The origins of the partnership date back to the severe wildfire seasons in 2000, the Cerro Grande wildfire in NM, and the resulting National Fire Plan. To help implement the 10-year Comprehensive Strategy, the federal agencies looked for a partner – The Nature Conservancy – with national reach and local, community-based connections and projects to help build a network of fire collaboratives, facilitate training, and expand outreach opportunities. This led to a series of cooperative agreements between USDA Forest Service, the Department of the Interior and The Nature Conservancy which have supported our work since 2002. For more than two decades, the Fire Networks have both informed and supported key federal fire initiatives, including the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy (Cohesive Strategy), and most recently, Confronting the Wildfire Crisis, a 10-year strategy that the Forest Service launched in 2022.
Fire Learning Network (FLN) launched to support collaboratively led planning, learning, and implementation in fire-adapted landscapes.
Prescribed Fire Training Exchanges (TREX) emerged as FLNs working in the Great Plains sought to build prescribed fire capacity.
Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network (FAC Net) applied the learning network model to communities embedded in landscapes that burn.
Indigenous Peoples Burning Network (IPBN) began bringing together those seeking to reinvigorate traditional fire cultures.
We envision a future of viable fire cultures across the country, where landscapes and communities are resilient to wildfire:
Where fire once again plays its fundamental role as an ecological and cultural process.
Where communities are empowered and prepared for wildfire.
Where the workforce welcomes diverse viewpoints, identities, skills and life experiences.
Where people who live within and depend on fire-adapted ecosystems have a role and voice, shared ownership, and where power and responsibility are distributed equitably.
Our PRINCIPLES AND VALUES
Fundamentally, collaboration is built on trust. And trust is built upon a series of honorable acts. We support collaboration as an ongoing process, involving nurturing relationships, peer learning, and work across boundaries and jurisdictions, while focusing on results partners want to achieve together.
The practice requires being nimble, adaptive, and responsive to change.
Adaptive capacity is vital. Fire historian Stephen Pyne has said, “Our nation does not have a fire problem. It has many fire problems, and they require different strategies.” We recognize there is not a one-size-fits-all approach; every community’s journey to living better with fire is unique, and it changes through time. Our diverse situations require a range of options and capacities—and flexibility.
We won’t achieve any vision for living better with fire without thoughtful and equitable engagement of all segments of communities. This requires listening to and elevating diverse voices. It requires showing up for others and demonstrating humility. And it requires acknowledging and learning from our past and recognizing the impacts that past approaches and wildfire itself have on historically underserved and excluded communities. The Fire Networks have deepened and increased our investments in diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice learning over the past five years, and we recognize that it is an ongoing journey.