As a Public Scholar I feel empowered and supported to explore a more holistic perspective on the complex topic of wildfire research through meaningful community partnership.

Research Description

Wildfire has emerged as a complex and challenging global problem, with increasing wildfire risk and megafire occurrences causing significant ecological and societal impacts. Paradoxically a century of active wildfire suppression has allowed British Columbia’s dry forests to grow denser and more homogeneous, and these forests fuelled recent large aggressive wildfires as a result. This is a departure from the historically mixed fire regime in dry forests, which was dominated by low severity fires including Indigenous cultural burns. This research builds on existing evidence of historical mixed severity fire regimes and Indigenous fire stewardship and aims to understand how fuel accumulation in the absence of fire affected fire behaviour, severity, and greenhouse gas emissions. Research is centered upon Stswecem’c Xget’tem First Nation traditional territory in the Cariboo region of interior British Columbia, and scientific results from tree-ring reconstruction and fire behaviour modelling methods will be interpreted together through a community engagement process to bring scientific and Indigenous knowledge of fire together and provide a more holistic and community-informed perspective on wildfire regimes and potential for future management.

What does being a Public Scholar mean to you?

When I set out on my PhD journey, I proposed to do an entirely scientific thesis aligned with the traditional values and concept of a PhD. But as I learned more from my collaborators at Stswecem’c Xget’tem First Nation it became clear that a purely scientific approach would be insufficient to answer the questions we were most interested in. Now as a Public Scholar I feel empowered and supported to explore a more holistic perspective on the complex topic of wildfire research through meaningful community partnership.

In what ways do you think the PhD experience can be re-imagined with the Public Scholars Initiative?

Ideally research should be meaningful for the people that it affects or on whom it is centered, as well as for the academic community. I am excited to take part in public scholarship so that I as a researcher can be responsive to Stswecem’c Xget’tem citizen’s interests, priorities, and knowledge. The PhD experience has traditionally been one of learning and thinking deeply, and I see a pathway to establish reciprocal research partnerships and engage with non-academic ways of knowing through the PSI, making the work more thoughtful and useful for communities.

How do you envision connecting your PhD work with broader career possibilities?

I hope to build skills, relationships, and perspective during my PhD to have a positive impact on community wildfire management through future research and work directly with communities. I believe that effective community engagement will be especially important to design wildfire management strategies that are appropriate for local ecology, culture, and priorities.

How does your research engage with the larger community and social partners?

This research is in partnership with the Stswecem’c Xget’tem First Nation, whose communities have faced a direct threat by wildfire repeatedly in recent years. Respectful and reciprocal research, collaboration and dissemination practices were negotiated before this project began and are established as a legal Indigenous Collaborative Research Protocol Agreement. I aim to produce robust scientific knowledge that Stswecem’c Xget’tem can use to support their stewardship and governance goals, which are integral reduce wildfire risk in their communities.

How do you hope your work can make a contribution to the “public good”?

British Columbia has endured a rapid series of destructive wildfire seasons in 2017, 2018, 2021 & 2023, and wildfire impacts demand a response. I hope that this research can demonstrate important ways in which dry forests have changed in the absence of fire, and the links between that change and extreme fires today. Such understanding is essential to design effective wildfire management strategies and forest treatments, especially around remote Indigenous communities who are disproportionately affected by wildfire risk.

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

Before I started a graduate degree, I was inspired by research that helped people affected by the drastic shifts in the natural environment caused by climate change. Pursuing graduate studies has allowed me to develop the skills to take a robust look at issues at the climate-human interface and share that knowledge with people who can benefit from it.

Why did you choose to come to British Columbia and study at UBC?

The Faculty of Forestry and UBC host a fantastic group of multi-disciplinary researchers with world-class experts in wildfire and forest ecology. I was eager to learn in a place where my perspectives would be broadened and challenged by this diverse community. Support programs offered by UBC, including the Public Scholars Initiative, gave me optimism that my PhD experience could be broad and allow for me to make work meaningful throughout the process. Living in the mountains is a nice bonus.