Tomorrow I will get on a plane and fly to Alberta, Canada. My first project assignment will be up in the Northwest Territories (Bears, Bugs, and Boreal), and I will be camping. Here’s some of things I’ll have with me:
- Two packs: my old Ospery (37L) and a mint Mystery Ranch Terraframe (80L and an absolute monster).
- About 5 changes of clothes
- An Ipad and keyboard
- External hard drive and battery charger
- Medical Kit (freshly certified EMT)
- Tool Bag - should probably throw myself in there
- JetBoil + water purifier + quick dry towels + tent + other camping gear
- A few notebooks & some W.E.B reading material
- 6 maps
- Fire boots + Nomex brush pants and yellow
- Rain + Bug gear
- Fiber tape - always
If I forgot anything, let me know
This planet is changing rapidly in many ways. New normals that many of us are unprepared for will arrive abrasively and abruptly. One of these changes is the nature of wildfires. A natural element that we manage to avoid in daily life, becomes strongly apparent when it ignites. And while it may leave deep scars across human memories, it may be a cleanse for the landscapes those same memories love. With an altered climate encroaching, it becomes imperative that we recognize different approaches to our relationship problems with the planet. As a 2019-2020 Thomas J Watson Fellow, I hope to explore some of these different approaches that exist throughout the globe.
Intro to TJW
First off, who is Thomas J Watson and why does he have fellows? In 1914, T.J Watson was hired to run a company that would eventually become IBM. Then in 1961, his wife, Jeanette, formed a foundation in his honor with the intent to offer recent college graduates the opportunity to pursue a year of immersive, independent study in a field of deep-interest. This foundation, the Thomas J Watson Foundation, funds year-long projects that allow for “purposeful, independent exploration outside the United States, awarded to graduating seniors nominated by one of 40 partner colleges” . Go Tigers.
The rules of this fellowship are straightforward:
1. Stay outside the U.S for one year
2. Do not return to countries previously visited
3. Submit quarterly reports with a final conference presentation
4. Focus on the process of the project and self-growth
By abiding these rules, fellows are expected to design their year to fit their project completely on their own with minimal resources. The foundation offers little structural support and fellows must pursue their interests in their own image.
If you are someone interested in pursuing the Watson application process, please feel free to reach out. You can also find my written application materials in the “About” Section of this site.
For my Watson year, I will be exploring a few of the most fire-prone nations in the world to explore their mindsets, tactics, and research around this fiery force. These countries include (in sequential order):
It just so happens that the same Mediterranean-like climate that makes these regions ideal for vacation, also make them arid and thus, ripe for extreme fire behavior. I am definitely not complaining.
Specifically, this project is aimed at a few, abstract research questions: 1. What variables exist that allow for a more proactive management approach to wildfires versus a reactionary, suppression-based management style? Essentially, can we prepare for wildfires instead of exhausting ourselves trying to fight them?How is climate change altering fire regimes and what impact is that having on the ecology of landscapes? Are there forms of community action and preparedness that may be more efficient in reducing negative wildfire impacts? In the many regions that have experienced significant indigenous burning, are there methods to maintain these cultural practices and implement their environmental benefits in large-scale, federal land management?
Big questions. Especially in the face of a warming planet, expanding human development, and longer fire seasons; pretty important ones in my opinion. So how am I going to even attempt to answer these behemoth questions? Honestly, I am still working on that one. The plan - for now- is to send many, many emails in order to meet and shadow people that are entrenched in the wildfire predicament. These people include land managers, indigenous groups, vulnerable and impacted communities, ecologists, conservation-based NGOs, and firefighters.
Yes, I am aware of how ambiguous my plan is, thank you for noticing. The fellowship itself is intended to be completely unstructured and it is up to the fellow to figure out how to structure it.
For my purposes, I plan to structure my project around interviewing and interning for all those that will offer their perspective. Some of these activities may include: helping fire researchers collect and interpret their data, assisting with prescribed and wildfire operations on the line, listening to the stories of wildfire survivors, observing live-fire fuel treatment experiments, meeting with community protection agencies, and other opportunities. The world of international fire has immense knowledge, but it appears somewhat condensed to a small pool of experts. It is my goal to both learn about this knowledge and how to percolate it to those that do not surround themselves in wildfire tactics and data.
As my July 10th departure date and the start of this daunting journey draws closer, I am reminded of all the people that have contributed to the formation of this project. The honest truth is that none of these concepts are novel; people that exist within the wildfire world have known and talked about them for forever. My project itself was simply the brain-child of hundreds of conversations and lessons that I experienced through my last four years as a wildland firefighter and ecology student. So for these people and groups, I must express my gratitude:
The Catalysts - Olivia Raine (my inspiring sister) and Ms. Hillary Hunt (the muse)
The Groundpounders - USFS E-451 (Brandon, AJ, Joel, and Myke), Vegas Valley Veteran Handcrew (Brooks, JI, Eric, Douglas, Lanier, Poreta, & company), Salmon Challis Crew 7 (Monthei, Martin, Stone, Bird, Aragorn, O’Conner, Paige), and Sawtooth (Bennett, Bryck, Lomo, Golden, Switzer, Doug)
The Educators- J. Ebersole, M. Snyder, B. Linkhart, J. Lee, S. Ashley
Watson Insight - A. Siracusa, E. Fahrenkrug, K. Roybal, S. Krzych, T. Hooker, S. Perkins, M. Sawyer, T. Sym, S. Dewald
There are many more people that are behind this life development of mine and I know they are all the ones responsible, because there is absolutely no way that I came up with all of this.
Please message me your comments or suggestions for this blog or year or any other things. I am always open to positive or negative input.