THIS SUMMER, I TRAVELED TO RUSSIA for the 4th International Fire Behavior and Fuels Conference and for several stakeholder meetings. The trip was a continuation of the relationship building our Wildland Fire Operations Division has undertaken with the U.S. Forest Service International Programs and several Russian agencies, and is part of our broader strategy to engage in international outreach on the wildfire front.
Before I left the United States, many colleagues enviously commented on my luck in getting to go to Russia for work, especially St. Petersburg, a city known for its unique and beautiful cultural attractions. But the glamour of international travel can quickly be replaced by a dose of reality: time-consuming visa applications, long hours of travel, lost baggage, sleepless nights in a different time zone, and the helplessness of trying to communicate in another language.
Those are just surface-level frustrations, though. Deeper challenges include finding and paying for translators, scheduling around many unknowns while keeping trip expenses to a minimum, and attempting to set up effective meetings despite the current lukewarm political relationship between the United States and Russia.
Despite all that, there remains the opportunity for meaningful work. Fortunately, due to the strong collaborative nature of our relationship with the U.S. Forest Service, the trip was a success.
The conference began on a somber tone as news of the Granite Mountain Hotshot crew fatalities in Arizona filtered through emails. This struck a deep chord with many Russian colleagues, who have seen similar devastating firefighter losses in recent wildfire seasons. The tragedy also highlighted the critical need for continued research and application of fire behavior, fuel management, and wildland/urban interface development issues presented during conference sessions.
Brad Kinder, U.S. Forest Service International Programs Specialist for Russia, Europe, and Near Asia, and I focused our presentation on the challenges and opportunities for moving international outreach forward. Drawing on our experiences with Canadian and South African colleagues, we highlighted the areas in Russia that have shown interest or potential in adopting a Firewise Communities model. Although the context is very different, the concept of engaging residents in helping reduce wildfire risk is one that can be embraced universally.
Later that week, we had a chance to visit the changing face of the Russian wildland/urban interface. Post Soviet-era land ownership patterns have greatly changed, thus influencing the landscape and land uses. For example, collective farms have been split up, fragmenting the hillsides into large houses next to forests or smaller farms. Recent legislation has updated the country’s forestry practices, but Russia still faces challenges similar to those in the United States: a vast amount of land to be managed by a shrinking number of resources, ecological threats from invasive species, and the incidental consequences of a changing climate.
Meetings with state government officials, firefighting agencies, and environmental non-governmental organizations reinforced this need and potential for community-based fire management in Russia. The opportunity for meeting this need through introducing programs such as Firewise Communities is one that NFPA will continue to pursue with the U.S. Forest Service International Programs, and we look forward to learning more from our Russian colleagues about their efforts to manage and prevent unwanted forest fires.
Molly Mowery is program manager for Fire Adapted Communities and International Outreach.