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Physical Address:
Education Bldg, Room 220

Phone: 208-885-0968


Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire Ecologists

Ecology Student Fights and Studies Fire

When Leslie Fowler visited the Disney Wilderness Preserve in Central Florida, she wasn’t there for the sight-seeing. She was there to burn it.

“Fire’s my passion,” says Fowler, a University of Idaho senior double major in fire ecology and management as well as ecology and conservation biology. “It’s the thing that interests me most.”

The 22-year-old from Burley, Idaho, spent her 2016 spring break at the Disney Wilderness Preserve as part of a 10-person team sponsored by the UI College of Natural Resources. The students earned two college credits doing prescribed burning for The Nature Conservancy, which maintains the preserve. The prescribed burning was done to ensure that years of fuel buildup don’t become a catastrophic wildfire.

“We’re burning to meet ecological objectives,” Fowler says. “On the Disney Preserve in particular, they have a lot of endangered species, like the gopher tortoise. We need to burn to make that habitat suitable for them.”

In addition to experiencing the benefits of prescribed burning firsthand, Fowler has found leadership and training opportunities during her time studying fire ecology. She is particularly involved with the Association for Fire Ecology and is even national president of its student branch.

And on top of it all, Fowler is a wildland firefighter.

“I got interested in fire ecology after I started working for the Bureau of Land Management,” she says. “I worked for the Twin Falls district out of the Burley Yard on a Type 4 Engine crew.”

Luckily for Fowler, hands-on learning is a crucial aspect to fire ecology research. She is currently the undergraduate research intern on an interdisciplinary team conducting an exploratory study of the acoustics of wildland fire.

“We’re thinking that maybe we can predict fire behavior or infer from the sounds that the fire’s making what vegetation is burning,” she says. “We’re just working with little seedlings right now. They’re like 3 years old, and it’s very basic. But, you know, you have to start somewhere. Who knows what we could do with it in the future?”

In addition to her team projects, Fowler’s personal research involves studying how soil is affected by a surface fire when various amounts of fuel and soil moisture are involved.

“Soil’s not a really good conductor of heat,” she says. “So I thought it would be cool to see the dampening effect that moisture has.”

Fowler says her research is driven in part by a desire to bridge the gap between fire management and science.

“A lot of things in fire ecology right now aren’t very quantifiable,” she says. “That’s why my research question is so unique. I’m quantifying the fuel on top with fire radiative energy and then I’m looking at the soil heating.”

Fowler plans on pursuing a master’s degree. She knows that wherever she goes, her future will always involve fire.

“That’s the cool thing,” she says. “In fire ecology, I found my people.”

Leslie Fowler at a fire
Leslie Fowler is shown at the scene of a controlled burn in Florida.

Writer: Justin McCabe, a junior from Post Falls, is majoring in English literature and minoring in history. In the future he hopes to get involved with editing and publishing and ultimately aspires to become an author.

Photos courtesy of Leslie Fowler


Physical Address:
Education Bldg, Room 220

Phone: 208-885-0968