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Project ID: 12-2-01-61

Year: 2012

Date Started: 06/01/2012

Date Completed: 09/23/2014

Title: The Future of Wildland Fire Management in a World of Rapid Change and Great Uncertainty: Innovative Perspectives from Futures Research

Project Proposal Abstract: This proposal explores the future of wildland fire management from a variety of innovative external perspectives. Past efforts related to fire management futures have relied heavily on expertise from within the wildfire community. This proposal takes a much broader path to exploring the future of wildland fire management by enlisting diverse and cutting edge perspectives from futures research. Futurists take a big picture, systems approach to studying alternative futures and scanning for emerging trends because they have learned that changes in seemingly unrelated external factors can have unexpected and profound effects. Futures research is a transdisciplinary social science approach that uses an array of methods to examine alternative possible, probable, and preferable futures. The origins of futures research are often traced to work on the future of military technology carried out by RAND Corporation in the 1950s. Futures research is now a mature transdisciplinary field of study with a considerable body of literature, specialized journals, professional organizations, and an array of distinct methods for exploring alternative futures. Futures researchers have developed important insights into the nature of change and perspectives for thinking creatively and deeply about the future. The majority of futures research remains invisible to the scholarly community and the public because it takes place in military units, intelligence agencies, and corporations, and therefore is often confidential and proprietary. The potential benefits of enhanced foresight resulting from the proposed project may be critical in preparing for the future of fire management in a world of rapid change and great uncertainty. First, the more relevant perspectives we can bring to bear on a problem, the more holistic and complete our solution will be. Second, futures research - with its transdisciplinarity, methodological pluralism, and insights into the nature of change - can help policymakers and other stakeholders take a broader view. Futures research encourages thinking big in terms of multiple spatial scales and disciplinary perspectives, creative problem solving, and a systems perspective, in addition to the obvious inclusion of temporal scales that are beyond the range usually considered in natural resource policy. The complexity of environmental problems requires envisioning a wide and creative range of alternative futures. Finally, futures research can help explore key uncertainties and identify potential surprises, thereby facilitating the development of policies to increase adaptive capacity to deal with surprises. The objective of this project is to gain practical strategic foresight into wildland fire management. Foresight is defined here as insight into future problems and needs, and the ability to apply that insight to prepare wisely for the future. We will first review and synthesize the futures research literature to identify potential contributions to wildland fire management and policy. We will then use asynchronous computer conferencing to convene a panel of academic and professional futurists to elicit, compile, and analyze their insights about emerging trends in areas external to fire management that will likely affect the world of fire management in the future. We will explore the potential interactions and effects of these trends with our panel, and develop a wider, synoptic view of possible and plausible futures of fire management. This project will develop innovative ideas in fire social sciences with a transdisciplinary group of social scientists that have had little or no previous involvement in fire research, and will push the frontiers of knowledge about alternative futures of wildland fire management.

Principal Investigator: David N. Bengston

Agency/Organization: Forest Service

Branch or Dept: NRS-Northern Research Station

Other Project Collaborators




Branch or Dept

Agreements Contact

David Garrison

Forest Service

NRS-Northern Research Station

Budget Contact

Debbie L. Giovanopoulos

Forest Service

NRS-Northern Research Station

Co-Principal Investigator

Robert L. Olson

Institute for Alternative Futures

Funding Cooperator

David N. Bengston

Forest Service

NRS-Northern Research Station

Project Locations

Fire Science Exchange Network




Great Basin

Great Plains

Lake States

Oak Woodlands

Northern Rockies




Southern Rockies








Project Deliverables

Final Report view or print

("Results presented in JFSP Final Reports may not have been peer-reviewed and should be interpreted as tentative until published in a peer-reviewed source.")

  ID Type Title
  go to website 1821 Government Publication Wildland fire management futures: insights from a foresight panel
view or print   3557 Journal Article Journal of Futures Research

Supporting Documents

There are no supporting documents available for this project.

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