Part of our series Securing Global Net Zero, featuring innovation, research and technology from the University sector which could help reach targets for net zero carbon by 2050.
When forest ecologist Dr Erica Smithwick, Distinguished Professor of Geography at the Pennsylvania State University was doing her postdoctoral work in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, in the early 2000s, it was understood that the time between significant wildfires in that region was 150 years or longer, and that, in contrast to the prevailing fire prevention philosophy of Smokey Bear and the US Forest Service, fire had been a natural part of the forests for the past 10,000 years.
Rising temperatures, changes in weather and subsequent drying of the soil and vegetation have changed all that. Fires in Yellowstone burn hotter and now return in less than 30 years.
Erica’s work has come almost full circle. She now works with groups ranging from the Pennsylvania Game Commission to the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin on ways to reintroduce fire into the forests including using Indigenous techniques of controlled burning. Her team is creating virtual reality projections to show fire managers and local people that fire is a natural part of the landscape. “It will be used by decision makers to see what the future might be like, so that better decisions can be made today.”
Find out more from our member, Pennsylvania State University: https://www.geog.psu.edu/directory/erica-h-smithwick