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Grad Student Studying Wildfire Decision Making

By: Kathleen Tuck   Published 12:42 pm / September 22, 2016

Photo of Katie Gibble in front of the Administration Building on the Boise State campus.

Between a warming climate and urban encroachment into wildland areas, the risk of serious wildfire is at an all-time high. Fires are more common and last longer than in days past, and post-fire erosion is threatening an increasing number of homeowners with flooding and debris flows.

Because of this, municipalities and government agencies are focusing more than ever on wildfire mitigation and prevention, and scientists are providing an ever-increasing supply of data on the subject. New research from geosciences graduate student Katie Gibble will shed light on how that data is being used, and how scientists can provide even more relevant information.

Gibble, whose also is a Public Policy Research Center graduate assistant, recently was awarded nearly $25,000 from the Joint Fire Science Program, pending final approval, to interview wildfire decision makers at all levels. Her goal is to provide necessary information to help these stakeholders interact and better understand how current science-based information is being used in setting policy. Gibble notes this could even lead to new fire policy.

“Science is required by people who need answers, but the researchers don’t always get to see how it is being used.” she said, noting that this project will allow researchers to compile data and present it in “a language decision makers can understand and use.”

Gibble will spend about six months gathering information, under the direction of PI and associate professor of geosciences Jen Pierce. She then will create a “best practices” tool to help decision makers conduct wildfire hazard assessments in accordance with the latest scientific knowledge.

Gibble said being selected for the grant is an honor. “I’m holding myself up to a high standard,” she said. “Not all graduate students have the opportunity to take on self-guided inquiry.”

Information gathered during the project will be made available to the public and fire community through the Joint Fire Sciences Great Basin Fire Science Exchange.

Gibble also won the university’s first-ever Three-Minute Thesis competition in spring 2016, where she explained her research on post-fire erosion in about three minutes. You can watch a video of that presentation here.