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Wildfire resilience initiative launches with $3.7 million in seed funding from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation

Based at Cary Institute, the collaborative brings together scientists and stewards to co-create solutions to the fire crisis.

Photo by Ann Olsson

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation has awarded $3.7 million to kickstart the Western Fire & Forest Resilience Collaborative, led by Winslow Hansen, a forest ecologist at Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. Funds are enabling the formation of an interdisciplinary collaborative that will advance science-based management solutions to the growing wildfire crisis.

In the Western US, climate change and a legacy of fire suppression have led to larger, more severe, and more frequent fires — with devastating consequences for people, natural resources, and the climate. By dramatically speeding up the pathway from scientific discovery to action, the Collaborative will provide a clearer understanding of the future of forests and fire, and pilot new fire management strategies and policies.

“Funding comes at a critical time,” said Hansen. “Our window of opportunity to address the wildfire crisis in the Western US is closing. With the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation’s support, we can catalyze the science that’s needed to inform wildfire resilience and adaptation efforts.”

The problem is personal for Hansen, who grew up in Montana’s fire country and has conducted research in Western forests for more than a decade. He’ll be coordinating a network of collaborators from wide-ranging scientific disciplines — leaders in the fields of climatology, fire ecology, environmental health, and more. The list includes experts from UCLA, UC Berkeley, UC Santa Barbara, Stanford, University of Washington, University of Wisconsin, US Forest Service, and University of Colorado Boulder.  

“Fire is dramatically impacted by climate. Very rarely do we have a network of collaborators working on fire that actually includes climatologists. That is going to allow us to do work that would not be possible otherwise,” notes Park Williams, a hydroclimatologist at UCLA and 2023 MacArthur Fellow.

The Collaborative is also unique in that it brings together scientists with fire managers and other stakeholders to understand the science needed to inform decision-making around fire. “When we combine everyone's tool sets, the hope is that we can make a really serious dent in understanding how to live with wildfire on the landscape in a more sustainable way,” said Anna Trugman, a forest ecologist at UC Santa Barbara.

Collaborative scientists will use fieldwork, remote sensing via satellites, and state-of-the-art modeling to answer questions guided by decision makers in the fire community. These include: How are forests and fires changing? What are the long-term consequences of today’s management decisions? And what innovative management strategies and adaptation efforts are needed to respond to future changes?

The team will also work to define and track damaging versus beneficial fire, track and project forest carbon storage, understand how fire shapes freshwater resources, and predict the movement and health impacts of smoke in rural and urban communities.

“This century’s fires have been outpacing our ability and tools to manage them. While we expect increased wildfire incidence and severity across Western North America in the next few decades, we have much more to learn about where, when, and how these fires will burn as conditions change,” said Genny Biggs, program director for the Moore Foundation’s Wildfire Resilience Initiative.

Winslow Hansen, Director of Western Fire & Forest Resilience Collaborative. Credit: Ann Olsson

“Dr. Hansen is leading a brilliant and interdisciplinary team. Their Collaboration will deepen our understanding and help inform and test management decisions that reduce community and ecosystem vulnerability to severe wildfire, and increase our ability to coexist with beneficial fire in the century to come.”

Hansen comments, “The US government is investing billions to reduce fire severity using treatments like thinning and prescribed burns. But this will only cover a small percentage of forest. Thinking strategically about where and how to place these treatments is vital to maximizing return on investment, minimizing damaging fires, maintaining resilient forests, and building public support.”

The Collaborative’s predictive models will make it possible to test novel and scaled-up management strategies, helping to ensure that practitioners can leverage the best science to invest in practices that will shift the balance of wildfire from devastating to sustainable.

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation advances scientific discovery, environmental conservation, and the special character of the San Francisco Bay Area. Visit and follow @MooreFound.


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