Public Perspectives of Fire Management
A science fiction story by Edmond Hamilton entitled 'Alien Earth' (Hamilton 1949) describes the experience of a young scientist in a tropical country. The scientist obtains a potion that slows his physiology to a rate at which he can perceive plant growth and interactions between plants in rapid, aggressive, even violent motion. He is entranced and refuses to return to a pace of life 'normal' for human beings. How can teachers help their students see that plants really are this dynamic and interesting? We have found one way to focus classroom attention on plants. View them as participants in, and survivors of, one of the most dramatic agents of change in temperate ecosystems - wildland fire. During the past three years, we have developed, tested, and implemented FireWorks, an interdisciplinary, inquiry-based program for learning about fire behavior, ecology, and management. The program applies ecological concepts to three kinds of pine forest important in the western U.S.: ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa)/Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), interior lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta var. latifolia)/subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa), and whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis )/subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa). FireWorks is an example that may help others design programs that entice students to learn more about plants, integrate their knowledge with other disciplines, and apply it to problem-solving situations. FireWorks consists of a curriculum linked with an educational 'trunk.' The curriculum (Smith and McMurray 2000) provides structured programs of learning activities for students at the primary, elementary, middle, and high school levels, and has also been used for college-level instruction. All learning activities in the curriculum use materials from the trunk, which is available for loan to teachers. The trunk contains laboratory equipment, plant specimens, kits for feltboard stories and learning games, posters, CD-ROMs, videotapes, and reference books - all focused on learning about wildland fire. Eighteen copies of the trunk are currently in circulation in Montana and Idaho.