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September 2012

Pre Con: AFE Wants to Spread Like Wildfire

By Sarah Beauchamp, Assistant Editor

5th International Fire Ecology and Management Congress, hosted by the Association for Fire Ecology (AFE) at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland on Dec. 3-7. Held every three years in a different U.S. city, the meeting features speakers in the fields of fire ecology and management, who address contemporary wildland fire issues and place them in a global context. It's also an occasion for scientists, resource professionals, university staff, and students to learn from one another, discovering new technologies and developments in the field of fire management.

Challenges

With aftershocks from the GSA spending scandal still rumbling through the meetings landscape, the 5th International Fire Ecology and Management Congress could have a problem with attendance this year: Most people who work in managing wildfires are federal employees. "There's been severe restrictions on their travel budgets," said Timothy Ingalsbee, Ph.D., co-director of AFE, "and lots of confusion over the federal budget."

Aside from budget cuts, the congress has Mother Nature to deal with. "All of the recent wildfires present challenges," Ingalsbee said. In the weeks leading up to press time, fires had raged across the open spaces of Colorado and Nebraska. "A lot of our people are out there on the fire line," Ingalsbee said, "and it's hard to communicate with them and organize them."

But AFE isn't deterred. Everyone in its community is affected by the budget cuts, and pretty much everyone everywhere is affected by wildfires. "This forces people to have to collaborate more," Ingalsbee said. "Wildfire burns across everyone's lands and jurisdictions and forces collaboration, and we tend to be proactive about that as well."

Initiatives

AFE's highest-priority initiative this year is to expand its international reach and increase collaboration. "Wildfires are a natural process that occurs across the planet," Ingalsbee said. "We have these beautiful sunsets on the West Coast, but it's because of smoke from the wildfires going on in Siberia, and there are too few avenues or forums for international interaction."

The last congress, held in Savannah, Ga., in 2009, drew delegates from 36 different countries and six continents. Ingalsbee is hoping for a similar turnout this year. "Portland, Ore., is a very green city, and markets itself as a leader in sustainability, [which is] true for the convention center as well, so for our international guests, I think it's a great image of America to get."

To add extra value to the event, AFE will offer a dozen hands-on workshops in technology and information transfer, along with 10 concurrent speaker sessions, 21 special sessions, and events for students geared specifically toward the next generation of wildfire managers. "We'll also offer some of the [participating] agencies and organizations meeting space to convene," Ingalsbee said. "We're going to give them another good reason to travel to Portland to attend this event."

For more information: afefirecongress.org

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