Imagining Fire Futures Educational Website

In IMAGINING FIRE FUTURES, students in a high school or college class use model results to develop a vision of the future for Flathead County, Montana. This is a rural area in the northern Rocky Mountains where more than half of the landscape is covered by wildland ecosystems that have evolved with and are shaped by wildland fire. Go to the Imagining Fire Futures website.

In FIRE FUTURES, each student adopts a “character”— human, other animal, or plant—whose interests he or she represents throughout the online activity and in the class’s subsequent Community Planning Meeting. The student uses the website to learn about the character’s habits and needs, examine predicted conditions as modeled by FireBGCv2 and FSIM, and then select the scenario most likely to produce good habitat for the character. Students select scenarios based on their characters’ preferences for climate, wildland-urban interface development, fuel treatment, and inclusion of wildfire. Model results for the “black cottonwood” character are shown below.

Throughout the activity, students complete “quizzes” that challenge them to demonstrate or improve their ability to interpret graphs, read maps, and apply new information to practical problems. Each student also completes a journal that contains:

  • data about his or her character and its habitat
  • interpretation of the data
  • evaluation of future habitat for meeting the character’s needs, and
  • reflections on the adequacy of the model predictions.

After completing the online activity, students collaborate in a Community Planning Meeting to develop a vision of the future that could optimize habitat and wildland fire potential for all characters.

IMAGINING FIRE FUTURES is a product of FireClim, Award ID 0903562 from the National Science Foundation’s Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems Program.


Imagining Fire Futures banner
Aspen, cottonwood, and birch trees sprout profusely after fire (Robert F. Wittwer, Oklahoma State University,
Predicted 2060 habitat for quaking aspen, black cottonwood, and paper birch without further climate change in the North Fork of the Flathead River, western Montana. Pink lines are boundary with Canada and Continental Divide. Results from FireBGCv2 model.
Predicted 2060 fire potential in the North Fork of the Flathead River with further climate change. Red indicates fire every 20 to 100 years; yellow indicates fire intervals of 200 years or more.
Avatar for “Black cottonwood” character. Original artwork by Camas Allison-Bunnell.

Select Publications & Products

Smith, Jane Kapler. 2014. Final Report: Imagining Fire Futures-- An interactive, online learning activity for high school and college students. Product of Award 0903562 from National Science Foundation. US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, 25 p.