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Enhancing adaptive capacity for restoring fire-dependent ecosystems: the Fire Learning Network’s Prescribed Fire Training Exchanges

Andrew G Spencer, Department of Forest and Rangeland Stewardship, Colorado State University, Fort Collins
Courtney A Schultz, Department of Forest and Rangeland Stewardship, Colorado State University, Fort Collins
Chad M Hoffman, Department of Forest and Rangeland Stewardship, Colorado State University, Fort Collins


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Prescribed fire is a critical tool for promoting restoration and increasing resilience in fire-adapted ecosystems, but there are barriers to its use, including a shortage of personnel with adequate ecological knowledge and operational expertise to implement prescribed fire across multijurisdictional landscapes. In the United States, recognized needs for both professional development and increased use of fire are not being met, often because of institutional limitations. The Fire Learning Network has been characterized as a multiscalar, collaborative network that works to enhance the adaptive capacity of fire management institutions, and this network developed the Prescribed Fire Training Exchanges (TREXs) to address persistent challenges in increasing the capacity for prescribed fire implementation. Our research was designed to investigate where fire professionals face professional barriers, how the TREX addresses these, and in what ways the TREX may be contributing to the adaptive capacity of fire management institutions. We evaluated the training model using surveys, interviews, focus groups, and participant observation. We found that, although the training events cannot overcome all institutional barriers, they incorporate the key components of professional development in fire; foster collaboration, learning, and network building; and provide flexible opportunities with an emphasis on local context to train a variety of professionals with disparate needs. The strategy also offers an avenue for overcoming barriers faced by contingent and nonfederal fire professionals in attaining training and operational experience, thereby increasing the variety of actors and resources involved in fire management. Although it is an incremental step, the TREX is contributing to the adaptive capacity of institutions in social-ecological systems in which fire is a critical ecological process.

Key words

adaptive capacity; ecological restoration; Fire Learning Network; fire management; prescribed fire; resilience; workforce capacity

Copyright © 2015 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087