2020 Keynote


Addressing wildfire disasters in complex socioecological systems


Relative to other disciplines, wildfire science is still a relatively nascent field. Much of the focus in wildfire science over the past half-century has been on predicting fire behavior and first-order ecological effects based on post hoc observations and inference, with less emphasis on controlled experimentation or understanding the broader impacts of fire beyond the immediate ecological outcomes of combustion. This has revealed a substantial gap in our scientific understanding of how wildfires become disasters, and how to mitigate such disasters. The widely touted concept of “living with fire” can only be achieved by mitigating wildfire vulnerability across highly heterogeneous socio-ecological systems. This requires 1) understanding socioecological and biophysical drivers of wildfire disasters, 2) identifying place-based mitigation strategies appropriate to the community-at-risk, and 3) developing structural approaches to implement these strategies. Here, I present both an overview of drivers of wildfire disasters (distinct from drivers of fire activity) and two case studies illustrating successful long-term wildfire mitigation campaigns in California and the Pacific Northwest.


Dr. Crystal Kolden is currently an Associate Professor of Pyrogeography at the University of Idaho and a former wildland firefighter for the US Forest Service in California. She received her doctorate in Geography from Clark University and served as a research scientist for both USFS and US Geological Survey prior to her academic career. She conducts research across a broad spectrum of natural hazards topics at the human-environment nexus and seeks to reduce vulnerability to climate change disasters globally through a combination of applied science and outreach. She will be joining the Management of Complex Systems department at University of California, Merced in July of this year.