Each year, more than $1 billion is spent on wildfire suppression in the United States. In spite of this spending and much effort going into fuel treatments, millions of acres are burned each year by wildland fires. In order to meet this considerable challenge, and spurred on by the National Fire Plan and other national initiatives, managers are developing more proactive approaches to wildland fire management. Since 2000, there has been a growing acknowledgment that “a strong science foundation is key to managing the wildfire hazard and supporting management decisions in the most cost-effective and environmentally sensitive way. Supported by scientific knowledge, decision makers are better equipped to more reliably forecast or prevent damaging fires and to understand the consequences of the decisions for society and for forest and rangeland health” (USDA Forest Service, 2003). Interdisciplinary research on climate, ecology and human society shows that the interactions between these various elements shape the biological landscape of the Southwest and the occurrence of fire, a keystone process in the ecology of the Southwest. The ability of fire and land-use managers to manage wildland fire hazards depends critically on knowledge generated by scientific examination of climate-ecosystem-fire linkages. Knowledge of opportunities for introducing climate information into wildland fire decision making, as well as knowledge of impediments to introducing such information, is critical for national, regional, and local wildland fire specialists.
The CLIMAS fire initiative fosters research on the nature, causes, and consequences climate change and variability on fire in the southwestern United States. These include efforts to improve communication between climate scientists and land managers. These efforts help fire and land-use managers use climate forecasts and historical climate fire management in the region and improve the ability of climatologists and fire specialists to collaboratively predict fire potential before the fire season begins. CLIMAS fire-climate research builds upon prior and continuing work being carried out University of Arizona and other institutions in the Southwest, including Northern Arizona University and New Mexico State University. CLIMAS research draws upon the considerable expertise of researchers at The University of Arizona’s Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research historical and paleo-reconstruction of climate-fire connections, as well as the expertise the Desert Research Institute (Program for Climate, Ecosystem and Fire Applications) Scripps Institution of Oceanography (California Nevada Applications Program) with regard climate patterns and impacts over short to very long time periods. A unique avenue of CLIMAS research currently underway is comparative analysis on institutional and decision structures and processes in wildfire management.