Welcome to the Forest Flyer, a quarterly news update from the United States Forest Service International Programs Africa & Middle East Team. To view previous issues of this newsletter, please click here. For more information about our programs, contact Kathleen Sheridan, Assistant Director, at kathleen.sheridan@usda.gov.
In This Issue
The Rise of Wildfires

Incorporating Indigenous Knowledge into Fire Education Programs

Capitalizing on the Latest Technology to Determine Fire Hot Spots and Prepare for Them

Confronting the Wildfire Crisis: A Strategy for Protecting Communities and Improving Resilience in America's Forests
United States
In February, the United Nations published “Spreading like Wildfire: the Rising Threat of Extraordinary Landscape Fires.” The report finds that climate change and land-use changes are making wildfires worse and more frequent, and that extreme fires are becoming more prevalent globally. The report estimates that extreme fires will increase by 14 percent by 2030 and 30 percent by 2050.

The report also found that countries are woefully unprepared for the rise in extreme fires and that governments should shift their investment from reaction and response to prevention and preparedness.

U.S. Forest Service International Programs is already collaborating with governments and community groups around the world to help them minimize the risk of extreme fires by being better prepared. The below stories highlight some of this work, including use of advanced technology to inform fire preparation and training-of-trainers models that build sustainable expertise. We also highlight the Forest Service’s new domestic strategy that acknowledges the pronounced risk of wildfire that the UN report highlights and outlines a 10-year plan for preparing communities and improving the resilience of America’s forests.

The Forest Service is conducting a series of training sessions on wildland firefighting fundamentals in the Menabe region of western Madagascar. The participants (and soon to be trainers) are technicians from the institutions that manage the protected areas of Madagascar, such as Madagascar National Parks and Forestry Administration. Participants learn how to support community fire brigades and how to better understand and manage fire. The technicians also learn approaches to co-managing the protected area with the communities that surround them. Participants and community members are encouraged to provide feedback on the fundamentals curriculum and adapt the educational models for Madagascar. After several courses, training participants become the instructors.

The Forest Service training of trainers model extends the reach and the impact of firefighting awareness and educational efforts. The first firefighting fundamentals course was American-led by Forest Service staff. The second course was led by half Americans and half Malagasy instructors, and it incorporated indigenous knowledge to increase the relevance of the firefighting fundamentals course for the Madagascar context. Now, most training sessions are led entirely by Malagasy instructors, including an advanced training on forest fire fighting held in the last week of March. The training of trainers model meets some of the UN “Spreading like Wildfire” report’s key recommendations for working with local communities, incorporating indigenous knowledge and focusing on prevention.

The Forest Service is also working with local, regional and national-level Madagascar government agencies to inform potential updates to fire management and suppression, planning and response. The collaboration incorporates indigenous knowledge with American knowledge products and frameworks. Madagascar doesn’t yet have its own training institutions to support fire prevention and response, but it does increasingly, with this partnership, have trained personnel who are ready to train others and respond to the increasing threat of wildfires.
Above, Malagasy community fire brigades in Menabe conduct a wildfire prevention field exercise during a wildland firefighting fundamental training course. Photo credit: USDA Forest Service.
The fire situation in the Menabe region threatens Madagascar’s unique dry forest ecosystems and communities. The large part of these fires are set as part of illegal land clearing practices within the perimeters of protected areas and is exacerbated by flows of migrant communities that are facing severe food insecurity and related challenges in the southern part of the country. Cultivation of peanuts and maize is an economically sought commodity that is often planted in these recently cleared and burned areas and is a primary cause. With recent drops in ecotourism revenues as well as other stressors exacerbated by the global COVID-19 pandemic, the threats to these endemic dry forests are severe.
The Niassa Special Reserve in northern Mozambique is the same size as the country of Denmark, 42,300 km2, but without any of the infrastructure. It’s one of the last great wild landscapes on Earth and it harbors incredible biodiversity, including thousands of elephants and lions. The vast stretches of Miombo woodlands (dry forest) have always been prone to fire, but with climate change, wildfire frequency is increasing, and the result can be devastating to people, biodiversity and ecosystems.

USAID and the Forest Service have partnered with Mozambique’s National Administration for Conservation Areas and the Wildlife Conservation Society to create fire management plans that account for the increased risk and frequency of fire. The team is using OroraTech’s wildfire intelligence service – near real-time data from multiple satellite sources are fed into a wildfire mapping and risk assessment platform – to monitor fires and gather the information needed to analyze their spatiotemporal pattern. The analysis informs risk assessment, early detection and damage analysis. It also helps the team determine where they should focus their efforts within the vast wild landscape.

Learn more about OroraTech.
Hotspot detection and clusters in the Niassa Reserve from OroraTech's wildfire monitoring service.
Photo credit: OroraTech
In the United States, overgrown forests, a warming climate, and a growing number of homes in the wildland-urban interface, following more than a century of rigorous fire suppression, have all contributed to what is now a full-blown wildfire and forest health crisis. To confront this crisis, the Forest Service launched a new strategy in January 2022 “to protect communities and improve resilience in America’s Forest.” The Forest Service is currently hosting roundtables with federal agencies, communities, and individual landowners to share information about its new strategy and collect input for the implementation plan. Enabling fire-adapted communities, consisting of informed and prepared citizens, is an important feature of the new strategy.
The strategy focuses on key “firesheds”—large, forested landscapes and rangelands, approximately 250,000acres in size, with a high likelihood that an ignition could expose homes, communities, and infrastructure to wildfire. There, the Forest Service will work with partners and communities to treat, or reduce fuel – anything that can burn, including trees and dead leaves and branches – by thinning, pruning and conducting prescribed burns. Under the strategy’s 10-year implementation plan, the Forest Service will treat up to an additional 20 million acres on National Forest System lands and up to an additional 30 million acres of other Federal, State, Tribal, and private lands.

Read the strategy