Ecology, Wildfire Science, and Advancing Gender Equity

Rachel Loehman, Ph.D., is a research landscape ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Alaska Science Center.

Rachel Loehman, Ph.D., is a research landscape ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Alaska Science Center.


“Leaders should work hard to set good examples that can inspire others. As a leader, I support those around me to not only achieve a common goal effectively, but to also enjoy and value the process.”

Dr. Rachel Loehman is a research landscape ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. Before joining USGS, she worked for the U.S. Forest Service research program at the Missoula Fire Sciences Lab.

She holds a doctorate in ecosystem ecology from the University of Montana, as well as a master’s degree in biogeography and a bachelor’s degree in archaeology from the University of New Mexico.

Dr. Loehman began work as an archaeologist in the southwestern U.S., and she has since built an academic and professional career focused on wildfire science and landscape ecology. She recently served as the USGS Deputy Fire Science Coordinator and was a lead author of the USGS Fire Science Strategic Plan. She continues to lead initiatives within USGS to build advanced, integrated capacities to assess and predict the complex interactions among climate, wildfires, and ecosystems.

What interested you in working in wildland fire?

Wildland fire is a highly important disturbance across the globe and has been instrumental in Earth’s history, shaping ecological patterns and dynamics. Fire is also a major point of intersection with human communities, as human settlement patterns both affect and are affected by the relationship of climate, wildfires, and vegetation. Understanding the potential future of global ecosystems and the natural and human communities that reside within them requires an understanding of fire—how fires burn, where they burn, what their effects are, how long those effects last, and how human actions through millennia have influenced the natural world.

As a landscape ecologist and former archaeologist, there is no better integrator of that background than wildland fire. Also, every fire ecologist is a little bit of a pyromaniac. We like to watch fires burn, make predictions about what we might see in the days and years after a wildfire, and think of innovative and acceptable ways to use fire to create or restore resilient ecosystems and habitats.

How can we better support women in wildland fire?

Equal gender representation, inclusivity, and support for women requires the presence and parity of women in leadership positions across all dimensions of fire research and operations—as faculty members, academic leaders and instructors; “-ologists” and managers on the ground; within fire crews and teams; and as students who will become the next generation of all of these.

I was lucky to be mentored by people (women and men) who didn’t exhibit gender bias, but I also experienced conscious and unconscious bias as a student and professional. My advice is to find supportive organizations and good mentors. For example, many professional organizations have mentoring programs for women. For women in fire, the Association for Fire Ecology (AFE) has such a program, and I encourage any who are interested to participate.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

I’m proud of my research program, which was developed after many years of education and hard work in the field and in the office. It has required dedication, creativity, and a commitment to science focused on management of natural lands and ecosystems.

Good collaborators, including other researchers, land managers, and agency staff, are a critical and incredibly rewarding part of my job. I’m also proud of the collaborations that I have built and maintained over the years, in addition to the benefits of collaborative work for building new science and management capacity and understanding.

Rachel Loehman, Ph.D., is a research landscape ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Alaska Science Center.

Erin McDuff is a public affairs specialist with the Office of Wildland Fire.

Thao Tran is a senior government professional with robust experience overseeing budget, program management, and strategic planning. She previously served as Budget Officer for the Department of the Interior's Office of Wildland Fire and is committed to advancing equity, diversity, and inclusion in the federal government.