Congressional Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission meeting participants pose with U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland at a recent commission meeting.
BY SHANNON MCGOVERN
Shannon McGovern joined Interior’s Office of Wildland Fire as a Wildfire Resilience Impact Fellow, a position sponsored by the Federation of American Scientists. Through its Impact Fellowship, the federation ensures that science and technology are inextricably linked with policymaking as our Nation confronts existential challenges and pursues ambitious opportunities. McGovern is also supporting a whole-of-government approach to wildfire risk reduction and resilience through this fellowship.
What attracted you to working in Interior’s Office of Wildland Fire?
The Federation of American Scientists Impact Fellowship was everything I have been striving to find over the last decade in school. When I learned that the fellow would join a team focused on how the federal government can change the trajectory of wildfire risk and restore fire-adapted landscapes, I immediately applied.
The Office of Wildland Fire maintains a unified wildland fire management program across the Department of the Interior. My initial experience with office leadership quickly demonstrated that this is a supportive environment that is open to new ideas and allows space for individuals to grow. I was indescribably excited when selected to serve.
There are many opportunities for students who may be interested in fellowships, internships, and other career pathways, which are listed on Interior’s Students and Recent Grads page.
Describe your fellowship, the work you are doing, and how it will help wildland fire management.
My Federation of American Scientists fellowship involves translating technical and scientific knowledge into practice through public policy.
My efforts are focused on supporting the Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission, which represents federal agencies; state, local, and Tribal governments; and the private sector. The commission is forming federal policy recommendations to better prevent, manage, suppress, and recover from wildfires.
I am using my experience to identify, track, and evaluate new information that will inform decision making and support the development of a comprehensive, forward-thinking report that will be delivered to Congress in September 2023.
A vast quantity of wildland fire management and risk reduction information, science, and policies must be considered for the commission’s efforts. As a person who enjoys data management and analysis, I am exploring ways to allow commission members to digest massive quantities of information so they can make informed decisions. I have thoroughly enjoyed collaborating with the commission coordinators on ways to visualize the data, highlight the complexities of the current situation, and demonstrate the investments needed in wildland fire management to create a paradigm shift.
What are your career goals?
I am fortunate enough to have found an area that sparks my passion: the intersection of science, public policy, and practice, particularly as it relates to natural hazard mitigation and management. I sought a doctorate in public administration because I recognize the importance of social science in natural hazard mitigation and management.
There is currently a gap between the important science happening within countless organizations, the policymakers striving to make informed decisions, and the land managers who will take action to mitigate risks and manage hazards. It is crucial that we find efficient, effective methods to convey the vast amount of scientific information to multiple audiences. My goal is to continue closing the gap.
I enjoy using my training to translate science into action. My goal is to continue this career pathway as a public servant working at the intersection of science, public policy, and practice.
Do you have any advice for those who may be interested in this field?
As a social scientist entering a space generally occupied by biophysical scientists, I had to be ready to seek discomfort in conversations and continuously push myself outside my areas of expertise. As a dedicated public servant, I am grateful to be in a field that welcomes diverse and new ideas, encourages the next generation to get involved, and allows room for exploration and growth.
If you are interested in this field, I recommend that you make network connections and discuss interests with anyone in the field, regardless of your current understanding of the field’s complexities. There is an amazing and diverse community of natural hazard researchers, decisionmakers, policy experts, public servants, and practitioners around the globe who are eager to encourage the next generation to carry the torch toward reducing wildfire risk.
My pathway to this fellowship was paved by countless brilliant, kind people who were willing to share their knowledge, discuss ideas, and highlight potential opportunities. None of this would have been possible without support from the natural hazard community, and I hope others will discover the possibilities as well.
Shannon McGovern is currently completing her fellowship with Interior’s Office of Wildland Fire. She is at the very end of her PhD program in Public Administration at North Carolina State University and will complete the degree after her fellowship ends. She also serves on multiple research teams, most notably the North Carolina State University Fire Chasers. She is focused on translating her work into meaningful wildfire risk reduction and on-the-ground hazard mitigation.