We often blog here with brief updates or reflections on our work, while our website provides examples and descriptions of what we do. We are excited to continue sharing our series of stories, focused on longer timelines and richer details. And remember, if you want to join our team to support scientists in their engagement efforts – we are hiring!
A communication challenge we often hear from scientists is that the world doesn’t care about what they study. For scientists who study wildfire, this isn’t really the problem – the public does care and is concerned, especially as fires escalate in many regions around the world. In this case scientists have other communication challenges, namely that the public discourse doesn’t reflect their understanding of the ecological roles of fire. Smokey Bear has led the public to believe that forest fires, unlike other natural hazards such as floods or earthquakes, are something to be prevented and fought.
The story becomes even more complex when another communication challenge is layered on – geographical variation. In fire science, context and place matter. What scientists observe in grasslands differs from shrub lands; lower elevation forests differ from higher elevation ones. How fire plays out in the northern Rockies differs from the Ponderosa Pine forests of the Southwest. So how do scientists communicate the details of what they observe, not only as individuals in a specific context, but also as a community, to more coherently address the tough questions that are top of mind for the public and policymakers about wildfires?