Meet the Joint Fire Science Program's Karen Dante-Wood: bridging land management, fire science, and communication

Karen shows her toddler a freshly caught trout along a river bank

Karen introducing her daughter to fishing  

Karen Dante-Wood

Technology Transfer Specialist

Bureau of Land Management – Joint Fire Science Program

“You can learn a lot about someone’s journey just by asking. Try to look past someone’s title. Remember that leaders had to start somewhere, just like you once did.”

Born and raised in India, Karen Dante-Wood moved to Canada when she was nine years old. She received a BS in Biology from Queen’s University in Canada and MS in Environmental Science and Policy from John Hopkins University. In her 11-year career, she has worked for the Bureau of Land Management, National Wildlife Federation, Environmental Protection Agency, and U.S. Forest Service. She currently supports BLM’s Joint Fire Science Program as technology transfer specialist guiding and supporting activities of the Fire Science Exchange Network and developing fire science and technology transfer products.


What interested you about working in wildland fire?

Prior to joining the Joint Fire Science Program team, my background for the last 10 years was in the climate change science and policy arena. My work with the Forest Service, EPA, and National Wildlife Federation led me to interact with researchers and policy analysts on climate change impacts on fire and other natural resources and the implications of environmental policies on agency operations and regulations. I felt that understanding the ins and outs of the fire world – operations, management, budgets, fire science, leadership, and agency fire management direction – was important to truly succeed in understanding public land management stewardship. I find the multi-dimensional nature of wildland fire fascinating. There are so many sides to it from natural resources (understanding the mechanics of wildland fires) to operations and logistics about fire management to the social side of firefighter health and safety to the economic side of Agency and state budgets. I want to become well versed in these areas which is why I am excited to have the opportunity to work with the Joint Fire Science Program at NIFC in Boise, Idaho.

What challenge has been most impactful to you?

While acutely aware of the green movement’s popularity within my generation, my desire to pursue a career in ecological preservation and conservation is not a mere fad. Like many Indians, I was born with my future career choices pre-determined – be either a doctor or an engineer. I chose the medicine route. During my senior year in college, I decided it was not meant for me as I fell in love with my botany classes. I became a plant lover! One of the most difficult experiences in my life was informing my family I would not be taking the MCATs, but rather am moving to far-away Idaho to save the sagebrush. I decided to take an internship with the BLM in Idaho and collect native seeds to rehabilitate landscapes destroyed by wildfires. This was by far one of the most difficult decisions in my life. I was afraid of the shame I was bringing on my family by choosing a career that was so different from my family and cultural expectations. That said however, looking back now I am so proud of that 21-year-old me and how brave and courageous this step was. This decision has led me to where I am today: a happy and content science-policy-communications natural resources specialist.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

I worked with Forest Service research scientists to develop assessments of how carbon stocks at regional scales and in individual national forests are affected by factors such as fire, harvest, insect outbreaks and disease. This multi-year effort led to us receiving the Chief’s Award in 2016 for advancing knowledge for the Agency. The reason I am most proud of this recognition is because of the impact of these assessments. They are currently being used in NEPA analyses and forest plan revisions.

How do you recharge your battery outside of work?

My husband was a fishing guide in Sun Valley, Idaho, and Florida for over 15 years. As such, our weekends in the spring and summer consist of fishing for trout and bass with our 3-year-old daughter. When not with my daughter and husband, I enjoy unwinding by hiking and running.

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.