The Kathy and Steve Berman
Western Forest and Fire Initiative
at the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability
As the forested landscapes of the US West experience more and more wildfires, smoke events, and power shut-offs, it is becoming clear that human and ecological communities must adjust their way of functioning to reduce risk.
However, this process of adaptation requires breaking a set of persistent positive feedback loops through which–since Euro-American settlement–fire suppression and exclusion in combination with development and climate change have created flammable landscape conditions fueling large smoky fires, which further exacerbate climate change, trigger disruptive power shut-offs, and damage human and ecological systems, all of which further compel society to suppress and exclude fire.
We aim to improve understanding of human and ecological adaptation to wildfire risk as a complex system with the goal of informing policy and management interventions to break these pathological positive feedback loops and improve the suitability of human and ecological communities to the changing environment.
WFFI in the News
Philanthropic Gift Establishes Berman Western Forest and Fire Initiative at SEAS - April 7, 2021 - The University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS) announced today that it received a significant philanthropic gift to establish a program that will advance socially engaged, problem-oriented research on western forests, fires, and communities. Read More...
What is unique about WFFI?
We acknowledge that one of the features of wildfire risk that makes it so difficult to adapt to is that there are synergistic relationships between problems and solutions. The social, ecological, and technical causes and consequences of wildfire risk interact within and across different domains and scales to form positive feedbacks that exacerbate undesirable aspects of wildfire risk. Although we as individuals will not study all of these interactions, we will recognize them and account for them in our research, and to the extent possible, integrate them into our conceptual frameworks and collaborate on investigations.
Our team believes that the purpose of academic research should be to advance the well-being of society. We also believe that people who are grappling with how to manage wildfire risk in practice on a day-to-day basis hold critical knowledge about the nature of the problem and how it can and ought to be solved. Therefore, we believe that any efforts to improve understanding of wildfire risk should include collaboration between researchers and practitioners to develop new insights and strategies for applying them. This process, commonly referred to as knowledge co-production, stands in contrast to unidirectional models where researchers produce scientific knowledge and communicate it to practitioners. Evidence is mounting that co-production of knowledge promotes inclusion of different perspectives and therefore more relevant and useful and actionable outcomes. As a team, we will strive to engage with practitioners in all phases of our research to collectively define problems, identify knowledge gaps and research questions, interpret findings, and develop interventions,