Dear Wildland Fire Community,
 
The Association for Fire Ecology (AFE) is committed to supporting the wildland fire science community in the dissemination and application of the best available science and tools to improve our ability to live with wildland fire today.  One of the most efficient and effective ways to rapidly transfer the science and management innovations is through face-to-face exchanges at conferences, workshops, and other scientific meetings.  There is no substitution for the sharing of perspectives, the overall quality of knowledge exchange, and the real-time discussion of solutions and strategies that occur in-person.
 
AFE's recent letters to the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of the Interior reflect our dedication to supporting our membership and the greater wildland fire science community in their work.  We believe that restricting interaction among federal fire scientists, fire managers, and the scientific community fails to fully capitalize on public investments in scientific research and technological development, and delays progress in developing solutions to wildfire management challenges. At our 2016 Annual Membership Meeting, our members asked that AFE advocate for change in the federal selection protocol used to determine federal employee attendance at such meetings.
 
Importantly, this advocacy is in no way motivated by the proceeds AFE receives through conference registrations: we are a non-profit organization and invest any proceeds directly into supporting our programs, our open-access journal Fire Ecology, graduate and undergraduate students in fire, future workshops and meetings, and the small but critical staff needed to administer and carry out our non-profit mission. Because of our limited budget, a majority of the work we do is done by volunteers (all committee chairs and members, the working Board of Directors, the Officers of AFE, our journal Editor), and we are grateful for their generous dedication to the wildland fire community.
 
AFE disseminated a press release on Monday, Oct. 31st, 2017 in support of these convictions, and with reference to the upcoming 7th International Fire Congress and Workshop ("Congress").   We endeavored to provide information which would support a public evaluation of the procedures in place.  These procedures ("Meetings Management") limit the number of federal scientists who can participate in conferences, workshops, and professional meetings- these are the scientists who, as part of their job descriptions, are charged with disseminating research results to the greater scientific community, and to managers who can apply the science to improve wildfire management.   
 
One of our staff members may have suggested that specific areas of research were being singled out for disapproval in the internal federal process used to identify which scientists and managers would be allowed to travel to the upcoming Congress. This was strictly the opinion of the individual staff member and in no way represents AFE's views, since the federal decision-making process is entirely outside our organization's purview. The press release (appended below), represents the Association's position on the issue and does not include any such conjectures. 
 
In response to this, we are presently restructuring our public relations protocols and policies. We apologize for any negative consequences that may have resulted, and would like to re-assure our partners, collaborators, and members that the Association continues to be dedicated, above all else, to furthering science and its application to wildland fire. 
 
Sincerely,
 
 
Leda Kobziar, AFE President

Addendum: Press Release issued Oct. 31, 2017
 
Federal Fire Scientists Restricted from Attending World's Largest Gathering of Wildland Fire Experts
 
Conference Organizers Argue that Keeping Scientists from Sharing Their Research at the 7th International Fire Ecology and Management Congress to 'Save Taxpayer Money' During Record-Setting Year for Suppression Spending is 'Penny Wise, Pound Foolish'
 
Eugene, OR - The nonprofit Association for Fire Ecology (AFE) sent letters to the Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke, protesting their delay and denials of approval for federal wildland fire scientists to share their research findings at the 7th International Fire Ecology and Management Congress ("International Fire Congress") meeting in Orlando, Florida at the end of November. The International Fire Congress will be the largest gathering of wildland fire experts in the world this year, but the absence of federal scientists from the USDA Forest Service and Interior department agencies could hamper the ability of federal agencies to collaborate with fire managers and researchers from across the U.S. and world.
 
"The 7th International Fire Congress features hundreds of presentations from some of the top fire researchers in the U.S. and abroad. As the world's largest wildland fire research organization, the absence of Forest Service scientists will be a huge missed opportunity for the agency to reap the benefits of its investments in research and share its expertise with the rest of the wildland fire community," said Dr. Alan Long, one of the Co-Chairs organizing the Fire Congress.
 
Federal employee travel restrictions were established during the Obama Administration allegedly as a means of saving taxpayer money, but in the context of federal agencies spending a record $2.7 billion on wildfire suppression in 2017, AFE's letter to the USDA and USDOI Secretaries rejects this rationale as being "penny wise, pound foolish." For example, for the same price as five loads of fire retardant dropped from a large airtanker, over 110 federal fire scientists and managers could attend the International Fire Congress to discuss ways to reduce wildfire suppression costs.
 
"The purpose of the International Fire Congress is to collectively analyze problems and develop solutions by sharing the most recent scientific discoveries and technological innovations as rapidly and widely as possible. Given the crisis over the rising costs and reduced effectiveness of wildfire suppression, there is an urgent, critical need for federal scientists and managers to attend this gathering of international experts to establish an ecologically, economically, and socially viable framework for living with wildland fire ," said Dr. Leda Kobziar, President of the nonprofit Association for Fire Ecology which is hosting the International Fire Congress.
 
Federal employee conference travel restrictions such as those imposed by the USDA-Forest Service's Meetings Management System were based on OMB rules established during the Obama Administration. However, OMB Director Mick Mulvaney directed the heads of Executive branch departments and agencies in OMB Memo 17-26 to lift many of the restrictions on federal conference travel that constitute counterproductive, costly red tape that negatively impacts the ability of federal agencies to fulfill their missions. Despite this easing of travel restrictions, federal attendance at professional conferences is dropping. At the 6th International Fire Congress in San Antonio, Texas in 2015, there were 180 federal participants with 70% of them coming from the USDA Forest Service, but only 48 out of 110 Forest Service fire scientists who had planned to give presentations at the 2017 conference in Orlando have been approved to travel despite nearly every metric for wildfire management getting worse over the last three years.
 
"As the smoke clears from the most costly wildfire season in U.S. history, it is clear that new strategies for managing wildland fire and fuels are needed, and simply spending more money on suppression will not lead to success in protecting communities or restoring ecosystems," said Dr. Timothy Ingalsbee, one of the organizers of the Fire Congress. "The argument that restricting fire scientists and managers from meeting with each other is about saving taxpayers a few thousands of dollars does not hold water while agencies spend billions of dollars on firefighting, with no end in sight in escalating suppression spending."
 
The 7th International Fire Ecology and Management Congress will be held in Orlando, Florida on November 28 to December 2, 2017.  For more information on that event:  http://afefirecongress.org/
 
To see a copy of AFE's letter to the Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, and Secretary of Interior: Ryan Zinke:   https://fireecology.org/resources/Documents/AFE_letter.pdf

Visit AFE's Main Website: fireecology.org
Visit the Orlando Fire Congress Website: afefirecongress.org