The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (UWSP) College of Natural Resources (CNR) will offer a wildland fire science program starting in the fall of 2013.
UWSP will be one of a handful of schools nationally to offer the program and the only school in the Midwest to offer it.
“It’s a little bit of forestry, a little bit of wildlife, a little bit human dimensions of resource management, a little bit natural resources, a little bit policy and a little bit meteorology,” said Paul Doruska, CNR associated dean of academic affairs. “We’re the perfect spot to put that together.”
Doruska said that currently fire science is too often an afterthought to other natural resource disciplines. He said that the increase in wild fires over the past decade has increased the focus on fire as a resource management tool.
“The (U.S.) Forest Service has been spending $1 billion each year fighting fires,” he said. “The (U.S.) Fish and Wildlife Service has 145 million acres that involve fire as a management tool.”
He said the Society of American Foresters and other organizations have listed wild fire management as a top issue.
“There are only a handful of programs like this in the country,” said Doruska. “There are more jobs than people right now.”
In addition to a strong natural resources curriculum, UWSP is also home to the Fire Crew, a 25-year-old officially sanctioned student organization dedicated to “wildland fire suppression, prescribed fire operations, and ‘all-risk’ emergency response while providing for the protection and preservation of life, property and natural resources.”
“It’s a nationally-known organization,” said Ron Masters, a UWSP associate professor of wildland fire science who will teach many of the program’s courses. “They’re an incredible group of students.”
Members of the Fire Crew, as well as local volunteer firefighters and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) personnel, held a fire training session Saturday, March 9, at the UWSP Hydrology Lab in Plover. The 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. training capped a three-day 40 hour classroom/field training to meet federal standard for firefighter type 2.
Kristen Miller, a UWSP senior forestry major and Fire Crew president, said the Fire Crew does two trainings each year, one in the fall as part of the Forestry 224 course, and one in the spring with the DNR and other participants. Eighty-eight trainees and 25 to 30 instructors participated in the March 9 training, which included operating pumps, unrolling hoses, clearing brush and dispersing the fuel from a prescribed burn.
Miller said it was the fourth time she has participated in the training. She said she’s “been drawn to fire.” “It gives me a rush that it’s different every single time,” she said. Miller will spend the summer working on an engine crew in the Black Hills of South Dakota and then go on to pursue a master’s degree in fire science.
Masters said that fuel buildup and drought have led to an increase in U.S. wild fires since 2000. “Fire is a part of ecosystems,” he said.
He said UWSP’s undergraduate program will help prepare students for the complex issues involved in fighting and preventing wild fires, while using fire as a management tool.
“That’s why we’ve pulled together a major,” he said. “It’s not just going out and digging a ditch and putting out a fire.”