Rising to the Occasion
Students Lead Fire Mitigation at UIEF and Beyond
Students have planned, overseen and conducted treatments on more than 800 acres on Moscow Mountain in the last four years, employing prescribed burning, thinning and hand/machine line installations to protect the U of I Experimental Forest (UIEF) and neighboring lands and homes as part of broader forest management goals. They are also responsible for construction and maintenance of roads and hiking trails.
The UIEF, overseen by CNR, manages over 8,000 acres on East Moscow Mountain. There are approximately 20-25 student workers during the school year and 10-15 in the summer, and staff efforts are joined by members of the Student Association for Fire Ecology (SAFE) Club.
They're so excited to do this work. There’s no way to overplay the impact that having a shared mission has on students. They will look back on their experience on Moscow Mountain for the rest of their careers. Heather Heward.
To our students and the community, the UIEF is more than just a forest. It is a classroom and a world-class resource center where students become leaders of natural resources, all while having a momentous impact on reducing fire hazards on the Palouse.
During summer 2021, students responded to three fires started by lightning: the Hatter fire, the Upper Rock Creek fire and the Basalt Hill fire. In September, treatments by SAFE club members slowed the spread of the Idler Fire, which burned about 120 acres, one home and a barn.
When students saw before and after photos of the areas affected, their “hearts swelled with pride,” said Heather Heward, U of I Professor, SAFE Club Advisor and chair for the Idaho Prescribed Fire Council.
“They're so excited to do this work. There’s no way to overplay the impact that having a shared mission has on students. They will look back on their experience on Moscow Mountain for the rest of their careers,” said Heward.
Fire Ecology Management Major and UIEF Student Staff Program Lead Joe Morgan agreed. “Helping train UIEF staff to fight fire has been a real highlight for me. They did great work on the fires we responded to, which showed the value of student involvement on the UIEF and Moscow Mountain area.”
Many of the field treatments that students do are specifically to keep fires from spreading to neighboring lands and homes. “In the future, we’ll continue to have collaborative projects that cross borders, helping to co-manage Idaho forests as well as private lands. We hope to expand to a wider area and reduce the overall fire hazard further,” said Rob Keefe, Associate Professor and Director of the UIEF.
“The UIEF is the students’ land to manage, which is very unique in the U.S.” said Keefe. Students don’t just make the Palouse safer — they model modern and collaborative wildfire management efforts across multiple land ownerships.
“When U of I President Green talks about careers that matter, this is what he means. We’re making a collective impact on students and the land,” said CNR Dean Dennis Becker.
Heward emphasizes that “adults learn by doing and being responsible. The UIEF offers invaluable leadership opportunities. As a land grant institution that strives to improve the landscape and make better leaders for tomorrow — this is how we do it.”
Article by Kelsey Evans, College of Natural Resources Writer in Residence
Photos courtesy of Heather Heward, Department of Forest, Rangeland and Fire Sciences
Published February 2022