Minding the Science-Practice Gap in the Wildfire Crisis Strategy

Minding the Science-Practice Gap in the Wildfire Crisis Strategy: Building Capacity for the Co-Management of Wildfire Risk Transmission (CoMFRT)

A critical challenge to implementing the Wildfire Crisis Strategy (WCS) -- and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Legislation (BIL) funding that supports it -- is the persistent gap between science and practice. Among scientists the gap is typically evidenced as a need for more, better, or different science and science communication. Such an emphasis on getting the science right and/or in the right hands prioritizes capacities to apply technical knowledge over governing capacities to effectuate complex cross-organizational action. It is also inconsistent with the principles of knowledge co-production, which is essential to building socially legitimate approaches to solving complex natural resource issues. As a matter of practice, agencies like the USDA Forest Service are entwined in a complex network of public, private, and tribal organizations, each having varied knowledge, roles, and goals in addressing wildfire risk across diverse fire-prone landscapes. Adding to this challenge is that every community in every fireshed is potentially unique in terms of its capacity-building needs, extent and quality of professional networks, and level of shared knowledge and cooperation. Viewed from a practice perspective, minding the gap requires institutional designs and inter-organizational strategies that can support and promote cooperation and coordination across land ownership, jurisdictional boundaries, and epistemic communities. To promote solutions to these capacity and coordination problems the CoMFRT project works to (1) improve collaborative engagement processes and strategies that can be customized to the needs of individual firesheds and landscapes and (2) advance vulnerability, capacity, network, and governance assessment tools that can be applied at multiple scales across firesheds. The presentation concludes with some reflections from the CoMFRT project on designing transdisciplinary and place-based (priority landscape) research to support the WCS.