Wildland fire resource advisors study a map showing the outline of a wildfire and the surrounding area during a briefing. Photo by Cedar Drake, NPS.
BY CEDAR DRAKE
It’s late evening and the warm summer breeze blows thick smoke across the incident command post. The red glow beyond the nearby ridgeline has grown brighter. Ash begins to settle on the truck windshields, and a heightened sense of anticipation and gravity permeates the muffled conversations of the fire camp.
The operations section chief opens the door to a tent. Inside, four people are hunched over a large map. They are pointing to an array of colorful symbols. Their voices are focused and urgent. They are resource advisors, and they are developing strategies to protect iconic sequoia trees and historic buildings from the growing wildfire.
Resource advisors, sometimes referred to as READs, join the response to wildfires to advise firefighting personnel on how to protect valued resources. These can include archeological sites, rare plants, critical wildlife habitat, Tribal assets, and wilderness areas.
Resource advisors have been deployed on wildfires since the 1970s. The National Park Service began formally training them on wildfire response in the early 2000s. Increasing this vital but little-known workforce is now a national priority for the agency.
In the past four years, 1,300 students from federal, state, Tribal, and local agencies completed the National Park Service’s resource advisor training. This represents an increase of 125 percent compared with preceding four-year period. Hundreds of the graduates went on to assist on wildfires and other emergency incidents as resource advisors and archeologists.
“The interest in wildland fire resource advising has been growing exponentially over the last few years,” said Cedar Drake, National Park Service READ course coordinator.
In the spring of 2022, the National Park Service hosted an online self-study resource advisor training that provided certification to an interagency class of 526 students. The course was provided through the Wildland Fire Learning Portal, which offers wildland fire personnel across agencies a single platform to access training opportunities. The portal helped reach a wide, diverse audience. Students came from all fifty states and from a range of federal, state, and Tribal agencies.
“This is one of the best online trainings I have attended,” said one graduate. “It answers a lot of questions about the READ role and prepares folks to take on their first assignment. I will be recommending this training to colleagues at my agency.”
Wildfires that have threatened giant sequoias in California in recent years have brought intense public awareness to the importance of resource advisors. Just this summer, the Washburn Fire threatened the Mariposa Grove at Yosemite National Park, including the world’s largest and most visited tree, the Grizzly Giant. Following recommendations from resource advisors, fire crews acted to protect the beloved trees, wrapping the trunks with aluminum foil and using sprinklers and hoses to moisten the area. Their efforts succeeded.
“In light of the unprecedented impacts we are now facing from climate change and wildfires, we need to support resource advising to ensure we can preserve the natural and cultural resources of the national park system,” said Rich Schwab, National Park Service READ course instructor.
The National Park Service Wildland Fire Resource Advisor Course (N-9042) will be offered again in the spring of 2023 through the Wildland Fire Learning Portal. The training is free and will be available to all federal, state, Tribal, and local agencies.
Cedar Drake is an ecologist with the National Park Service’s Fire and Aviation Management Division in the Pacific West Region. He also serves as a course coordinator for the agency’s wildland fire resource advisor training.