In light of recent wildfires that have decimated natural and urban areas in the US and abroad, there has been growing student interest in wildland fire, wildland-urban interface land management, and urban forestry. Wildland fire professionals throughout the US are heroically dedicated to understanding and addressing the threats posed by increasing wildfire activity, but this workforce (and more broadly, that of the full forest sector) has lacked racial, ethnic, and gender diversity. To increase the effectiveness of wildland fire and urban forestry efforts, future generations of such professionals must better represent the communities they serve (which are often characterized by racially and ethnically diverse populations). It is thus imperative that strategic action be taken to provide training through which diverse scholars and future practitioners receive exposure to and training in wildland fire and urban forestry, so as to be given the requisite skills to establish a career in these fields.
Urban WildFIRE (Fire Integrative Research Experience) is a workforce development program designed to provide such training to students traditionally underrepresented in forestry and across the STEM spectrum. It is funded through support from the USDA Forest Service Fire and Aviation Management Workforce Development Program, and offered through collaborative efforts between Michigan State University Department of Forestry, Tennessee State University Department of Agriculture, and The Nature Conservancy.