Fire Ecology and Management Students Make the World Their Classroom
by Alison Weigley
While their peers took a break from their studies, 12 students in the University of Idaho Wildland Fire Program spent their spring break lighting fires.
The students, who are actively involved in the University of Idaho's chapter of the Student Association for Fire Ecology (SAFE), burned a total of 6,227 acres during four prescribed burns on the Niobrara Valley Preserve near Valentine, Nebraska.
Controlled burning is an important tool for controlling eastern redcedar, a juniper encroaching upon Nebraska's prairie land. The students helped local ranchers and hunters improve habitat for wildlife and forage for cattle.
For Cody Fox, co-president of SAFE, this was an opportunity to experience the entire process of a prescribed burn. Fox and his peers were engaged in every step—from developing burn plans and collaborating with agencies—to evaluating the success of the project.
Learning by doing is a key strategy Fire Ecology and Management Professor Penny Morgan uses to train fire students. While traveling over 2,600 miles across five states isn't your typical field trip, Morgan knows the value of in service-learning opportunities.
Junior Katie Ward also participated in the prescribed burn and saw first-hand the value of crew cohesion as she worked side by side with members of The Nature Conservancy, the Bureau of Land Management and local volunteer fire fighters.
Gabriel Cortez used this experience as an opportunity to train his peers. Upon his recent graduation from the Fire Ecology and Management program, Cortez now is equipped with hundreds of hours of real-world, hands-on experience. His engagement in service learning opportunities has enabled him to do what he loves, network with state and federal agencies, and shake hands with potential employers.
For more than 30 years, the College of Natural Resources at the University of Idaho has been a leader in wildland fire education and research. The Wildland Fire Program offers more courses focused on fire than any other natural resources school in the country.