Written by Harrison Raine
The opportunity to travel and volunteer are part of a broader project, “The Societal and Ecological Balance of Wildfires”, under a Thomas J Watson Fellowship. The purpose of the Watson is to offer recent college graduates the ability to explore themselves and a specific topic of interest in an international context for one year. My specific project encompasses wildfire management and research on five continents, and includes in-depth examination in Canada (Alberta and British Columbia), Spain (Catalonia), Portugal, South Africa (Western Cape), Australia, and Chile.
Specific areas of interest for observation include those relating to: strategic use of fire, knowledge transfer within wildfire sector, fuel assessment and mitigation strategies, wildfire operations and emergency operations, community preparation and engagement, and current fire ecology research. Through this research year, I intended to gain a comprehensive understanding of the current state of global wildfire management and research.
PCF was first introduced to me through Lucian Deaton from NFPA following a discussion at the IAWF’s 6th International Fire Behavior and Fuels Conference. Initially scheduled to conduct research in Greece, I came to the realization that PCF aligned well with my personal mission of innovative approaches to the future of wildfires. I identified PCF as an organization that would offer an understanding of Europe’s wildfire dilemma, access to an extensive network, and a framework to collect information for my fellowship project. This resulted in an itinerary shift from Greece to Spain, following my time with PCF I am extremely confident that this was the correct decision.
Participating in the FireShepherds tour around Catalonia, aided with the language, shadowed Marc Castellnou for several days and attempted to absorb as much wisdom/philosophy/knowledge as possible, attended to several conferences and forums and support MeFiTu, the widlfire environmental activity, in a school.
The remote-work environment of PCF was extremely helpful to the simultaneous execution of these tasks. PCF format of remote work with weekly meetings in Taradell helped both to foster relationships among co-workers as well as flexibility to complete tasks in far-ranging locations. This is a strength that may be useful in attracting support from future volunteers, as the unstructured commitment may allow for part-time participation.
Overall, my experience with PCF is an extremely positive one, far surpassing my initial expectations. As with all organizations relating to wildfires, people are the key resource, and PCF is rich in people of high quality. Through my fellowship, I am often told about generational differences in wildfire managers: previous generations that have performed exceptionally with the knowledge available to them, but lack the innovation and adaptability of younger generations that are necessary to conform to an increasingly complex world. To me, the people of PCF resemble this adaptable and innovative approach, as all are filled with commitment, determination, and the skills to foster imperative change. With its current culture, I have no doubt that PCF will be successful in their future endeavors to foster collaboration and intellectual transfer within wildfire, crisis, and ecology communities.
Through my work with PCF, I was exposed to numerous novel perspectives that have expanded my understanding of wildfire management. Before arriving, terms such as “fire paradox”, “living with fire”, “integrated fire management”, “resilient landscapes”, “fire generations”, etc, were sparsely included in my preceding three years as a wildland firefighter and ecology student.
Additionally, the contrast of wildfire’s ecological role in North America versus the Mediterranean was a fascinating arena to explore. The importance of the rural economy and knowledge exchange between northern and southern Europe provided me with new viewpoints on the wildfire challenge. PCF introduced me to a variety of terminology and mindsets. I will carry lessons from the European experience forward throughout my fellowship and career. These lessons will be encompassed in my future fellowship reports, including a final thesis (July 2020) as well as on my blog.