College students tackle wildland fire management challenges

Andrus Center "Student Congress"
Posted at 5:30 PM, Oct 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-07 17:42:38-04

BOISE — Wildfire season is growing longer and more intense and at the same time, the firefighting industry is seeing staffing challenges.

Despite difficulties, young minds are working to solve these issues and this week at the bi-annual "Student Congress" hosted by the Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State University, college students gathered to learn about areas of opportunity in wildland fire management.

"I mean, it feels like an insurmountable problem if you think about the whole thing all at once," Betsy Black, a graduate student attending the program from Northern Arizona University, said.

"But if you think about small areas in which you can make a change, you know, if you can convince a community that they should do some skill, management, or fire suppression or prescribed burning…that will make that community that much safer.”

"Student Congress" congregates at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise
"Student Congress" congregates at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise to learn from wildfire experts.

Dr. Emily Wakild, Endowed Chair for the Andrus Center, said that the program started a decade ago, but the bi-annual event isn't always hosted locally.

“Holding a congress on a wildland fire in Boise made perfect sense," Wakild said.

The program is always focused on management of public lands and aims to help prepare students to enter the workforce and contribute to challenges within environmental industries.

This year, students studying a range of topics, from fire ecology to policy, traveled to Boise to hone in on the topic of wildfire.

“They are enthusiastic. They are really good at dialoguing with each other, they’re diplomatic, every piece of it gives me confidence in the structural changes that need to happen but also the humanity and the creativity is as well established in this generation of students," Wakild said.

Andrus Center "Student Congress"
Andrus Center "Student Congress" attended field trips this week to learn about wildland fire management.

All week, 25 students attended expert-led presentations, panel discussions and field trips. Thursday, they presented their findings to industry leaders at the National Interagency Fire Center.

“We have the science, we know what's happening, we know what we need to do. It's just a matter of changing minds and growing a culture," Black explained.

The students suggested pivoting towards climate engagement to attract more job applicants.

Adam Lohman, a Duke University graduate student from Medford, Oregon, told Idaho News 6 climate change has already impacted his life.

"We have communities at risk every year. My own hometown has hazardous smoke days every year. We lost the two towns next to mine in 2020. We need to take action now, before it's too late and before we lose more of these homes and more lives," Lohman said.

It’s a tough future to face, but these students are getting ready to face it.

“It is a daunting challenge. It's multifaceted. It's complex, and there's a lot of different things that are going to have to change if we're really going to get a handle on this," Lohman said.

The report from this year's program will be available online in the coming weeks and later presented to the Secretary of Interior and other federal public land officials.

The John Freemuth Student Congress is made possible with partnerships between the Andrus Center, Public Lands Foundation, and National Association of Forest Service Retirees.

To learn more about the Andrus Center for Public Policy click here.