Diversity and the fire community

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Written by Sherry A. Leis

Diversity. In natural resource management, diversity is often thought of as a desirable concept or condition. At various scales, defined or desired levels of species diversity may result in stable, resilient, and healthy communities (Symstad and Jonas 2011, Tilman et al. 1998). Diversity may also be critical for the provision of certain ecosystem services and non-biological processes such as movement of water or soil nutrients or abiotic features altering fire intensity.

In the realm of fire, we talk about diversity in the timing of fire, selection of ignition techniques, fire intensity, and fire frequency. Balancing fire diversity with other management goals can be difficult. Often, we talk about maintenance verses restoration modes; each has its own priority management actions. The restoration mode is a suite of management actions to move a sub-optimal grassland ecosystem towards what can seem like a fabled maintenance condition.

In the realm of human communities, diversity is a goal for institutions and organizations. The debate on how much and in what context is ongoing in institutions, communities, and politics nationally.

The Great Plains Fire Science Exchange has also been learning about the diversity of the fire community in the Central North American prairies. We have always known that everyone from the private landowner to the federal fire service plays an important role in our community. We have seen an increase in previously isolated members of the fire community working together to solve problems and achieve goals. The increase in burned acres (Melvin 2015) and burn associations in the region are examples of this (Weir et al. 2015). More recently we began learning about the diversity among American Indian members of the community and how they use fire. In much of the region, people with tribal affiliations are very integrated with society at large. These are people we interact with every day and may not even have knowledge of their heritage. They are using fire on ranches, leading extension programs, and are part of the state or federal fire services. There are also additional American Indians living on or near reservations. Some of these communities maintain their own local fire services and traditional uses of fire.

There are native smoke jumpers and hotshot crews, Bureau of Indian Affairs fuels specialists, and fire fighters of diverse backgrounds. As we learn more about how this group in our community uses and values wildland fire, we hope to also learn what types of information we might have that would be of value to them. We have certainly learned a lot about the Great Plains fire community over the last four years, but know that we have only scratched the surface. The more we learn about your fire interests and needs, the better service we can provide to the whole Plains. Diversity really does make for a better world.


Melvin, M.A. 2015. National prescribed fire use survey report. Technical Report 02-15, Coalition of Prescribed Fire Councils, Inc.

Symstad, A. J., and J. L. Jonas. 2011. Incorporating Biodiversity Into Rangeland Health: Plant Species Richness and Diversity in Great Plains Grasslands. Rangeland Ecology & Management 64:555-572.

Tilman, D., C. L. Lehman, and C. E. Bristow. 1998. Diversity-stability relationships: statistical inevitability or ecological consequence? The American Naturalist 151:277-282.

Weir, J., D, Twidwell, and C.L. Wonkka. 2015. Prescribed Burn Association Activity, Needs, and Safety Record: a survey of the Great Plains 2015‐6.