- Author: Grace Dean
In the wake of California's increasing wildfire concerns, UC ANR has made a concerted push to expand their fire network by hiring more academic advisors like Barb Satink Wolfson. Satink Wolfson covers the central coast region of California, serving the communities of San Benito, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and Monterey Counties. This is her first fire-focused position in California- but is far from her first time working in fire science and communications. Prior to moving to the Central Coast in 2022, Satink Wolfson established a presence among Arizona and New Mexico communities through creative methods of science communications.
Past projects in Flagstaff, AZ were focused on helping researchers communicate their findings to the public and on the ground land managers. One unique effort saw researchers partner with a local art council on a climate and fire art exhibit, which was exhibited in Flagstaff and Tucson. Local artists conveyed difficult fire ecology and management concepts in a more approachable medium, positively shifting visitors' attitudes towards active management. Satink Wolfson feels that her current position as fire advisor is a natural progression to scale these creative outreach efforts.
Now, Satink Wolfson has found that the people she serves are fairly fire-savvy, most likely due to the past wildfires such as the 2020 Lightning Complex Fire. “There's definite awareness, and some very active FireWise communities,” Satink Wolfson says, pointing to the region's Fire Safe Councils as a prominent example that assists with FireWise establishment.
She has endeavored to build on that community interest by inviting people to be curious about fire and management. For example, through her local Prescribed Burn Association (PBA), she invited the public to observe the prescribed fire process, from morning briefing to ignitions. “People really liked seeing that process,” she recounts. She expands on demystifying science, “I strive to use common language, limit acronyms, spell everything out.” Making those choices has a positive impact on community engagement and empowerment. Another essential part of empowering the community is ensuring that all community members are included, which is why Satink Wolfson is also a strong supporter of including tribal perspectives and tribal members for these projects.
“It's a long road to environmental justice,” Satink Wolfson tells me. There are some steps in the right direction, she says, including her local PBA allocating a portion of their grant funds for tribal apprentices, aiding the local Amah Mutsun Land Trust's efforts to bring fire education back to their members. The Association for Fire Ecology (AFE) is an organization Satink Wolfson has been contributing to for some time now, and their biannual conference is one that she “tried for years to bring in a larger component for indigenous people,” she says. This year is the first to include a large number of events specifically designed to welcome and pay respect to indigenous culture and history. “It makes me feel good that we're finally getting there, and the right partners make all the difference,” Satink Wolfson notes, referring to a local indigenous leader who is leading the facilitation of indigenous events, topics, and culture at the conference.
Environmental justice is not the only issue Satink Wolfson sees in her region. A more tangible hurdle is money- there's simply not enough to go around. She says that “For middle income people in my area, finances are one of the hardest hurdles for defensible space and home hardening.” Fire safety projects are typically done on an individual level, leaving it up to each homeowner to come up with resources and funds on their own.
Satink Wolfson points out that this concern infuses not only her advisor goals for the region, but the content she presents to the public. She's cognizant that “not everyone can afford to do everything at once,” and instead approaches management talks from the perspective of: “What can get people the biggest bang for their buck?” Her recommendation is to prioritize management projects through this lens, sharing: “The way that I look at my house is- I want to make it as likely as possible that it can survive a fire without intervention.”
This is why Satink Wolfson wants to work her way towards neighborhood-level action. She thinks about the impact of having large-scale, coordinated efforts that lead to saving an entire neighborhood from a wildfire. While working with Homeowner's Associations is a possibility, she would prefer a more grassroots effort. Community-led programs are the way to go, she notes, “That's why the Fire Safe Councils can be so effective.” This is the positive, people-powered model she sees groups like the PBAs building upon: “I see the PBAs as returning fire to the people. Anyone can do the work, they just need to know how.”
- Author: Mike Hsu
UC ANR hires more fire advisors to address growing threat to California communities
Bringing more expertise to more places across the state, University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources continues to hire fire advisors to help communities prepare for one of the most devastating climate-fueled threats.
With wildfires a constant danger as drought grips California, five highly skilled UC Cooperative Extension experts have joined the organization since early May:
- Katie Low, statewide fire coordinator (and also serving Nevada and Placer counties)
- Alison Deak, fire advisor serving Mariposa, Fresno and Madera counties
- Tori Norville, fire advisor serving Sonoma, Napa and Marin counties
- Barb Satink Wolfson, fire advisor serving Monterey, San Benito, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties
- Luca Carmignani, fire advisor serving Los Angeles and Orange counties
These positions – as well as other recent additions in agriculture and natural resources fields – are made possible by California's commitment, as reflected in the state budget, to improve the lives of residents in the face of a changing climate.
This robust team of fire experts provide broad knowledge and practical advice on a wide range of topics, including fire hazard mitigation, fire ecology, prescribed fire, wildland fire research, forest and wildlife management, and climate change effects.
Although their specific areas of expertise vary, all the new fire advisors are dedicated to helping residents and community groups across California become more fire-aware, adapted and resilient. They share vital information on how Californians can prepare homes, landscapes and property for wildfire.
First, she will coordinate and partner with UCCE fire advisors throughout California to develop and deliver wildfire-related science and outreach materials for a wide range of communities across the state. Low said encouraging diversity in the network of fire experts and engaged communities will be crucial.
“One of my goals is to help build and maintain a diverse and inclusive community of fire and natural resource professionals,” she said.
Based at the UCCE office in Auburn, Low also will collaborate with local natural resource professionals and residents in Nevada and Placer counties on projects that bolster community and ecosystem resilience to wildfire and climate change.
“I look forward to working with community groups, land managers and scientists to implement viable fire-resilient management strategies for ecosystems in the region and statewide,” Low said.
Equipped with bachelor's degrees in geography and ecosystems management and forestry, as well as a master's in forestry, all from UC Berkeley, Low brings to UC ANR a wealth of knowledge and a variety of experience.
As a fire and forest ecologist, she studied the impacts of fuels-reduction and forest-restoration treatments on Sierra Nevada mixed-conifer forests. Low also worked as operations coordinator for the California Outdoor Engagement Coalition, and as a forestry aide for California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection's Forest Biometrics Program.
Low can be reached at 530-889-7385 and firstname.lastname@example.org; follow her on Twitter @lowseverityfire.
Her role as fire advisor will include promoting the use of prescribed fire to help restore fire adapted landscapes. She will also prioritize community education, applied research and partnership building efforts that are based on scientifically informed ways to help communities mitigate, prepare for, and recover from wildfire.
Originally from northeast Ohio where there are no wildfires according to Deak, it was not until she moved to Colorado for college that she learned of their impact.
When the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire occurred, Deak felt like her playground was burning down so she acted. She began volunteering with the wildfire recovery effort and her career into fire science took off from there.
Deak earned a bachelor's in geography and environmental studies from the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs and master's degrees in geography and nonprofit management from the University of Oregon.
Before moving to California and joining UC ANR, Deak worked as a wildland firefighter with the United States Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.
When asked what she is looking forward to most, Deak shared that she is passionate about increasing diversity in the fire science field and, particularly, empowering more women to join. She is eager to help community members prepare for wildfire and mitigate fire risk in a safe and competent manner.
Deak is located at the UC Cooperative Extension office in Mariposa County and can be reached at email@example.com.
In this capacity, Norville will work with residents and organizations within the wildland-urban interface to encourage and cultivate fire-adapted communities. She aims to provide education and outreach on home hardening, defensible space and the importance of forest and fuel management on the landscape.
While pursuing her bachelor's degree in forestry and natural resources at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Norville became interested in “disturbance ecology” – how factors such as disease, insects and fire affect landscapes and environments.
“Many of the forest health problems we are seeing are stemming from a lack of disturbance, which traditionally was fire,” Norville said.
Her understanding of fire and its effects deepened during her master's degree studies in forestry science (also at Cal Poly SLO), as well as through her seven years with CAL FIRE at the Jackson Demonstration State Forest in Mendocino County. She worked as the Registered Professional Forester for its Timber Sales Program, and then the Research and Demonstration Program.
Norville's firsthand experiences from the past few fire seasons have helped shape her goals and approach. She hopes to “work holistically with disturbances” – specifically fire – on the landscape to foster healthy forests and ecosystems that are adaptable and resilient, while also researching the environmental and social aspects of fuel-reduction projects and prescribed fire.
“Hopefully, I can begin to change the perception of fire from something we need to fear, to something we respect,” she said.
Norville, based at the UCCE office in Santa Rosa in Sonoma County, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Barb Satink Wolfson
Barb Satink Wolfson began in her role as UC Cooperative Extension fire advisor for Monterey, San Benito, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties on June 30.
Her primary responsibilities include wildland fire-related research and outreach for the Central Coast region, while building trust, strong partnerships and collaborative relationships within both professional and non-professional communities.
Satink Wolfson earned her B.S. and M.S. in forestry from Northern Arizona University, and brings to UC ANR more than 20 years of fire-research and outreach experience in Arizona. Her favorite job, though, was working as a backcountry ranger in Yosemite National Park during her undergraduate years.
In her new role, Satink Wolfson hopes to address some of the questions behind the use of prescribed fire in a variety of ecosystems (such as coastal prairies and oak woodlands), and help all Central Coast communities build resilience to wildland fire so residents can live safely within fire-adapted landscapes.
Satink Wolfson, based at the UCCE office in Hollister, can be reached at email@example.com.
Prior to joining UC ANR, Carmignani was a postdoctoral researcher in the Berkeley Fire Research Lab at UC Berkeley. His research has focused on fire and combustion applications, from wildland fires to material flammability.
He earned his Ph.D. in engineering sciences from the joint doctoral program between UC San Diego and San Diego State University after obtaining his bachelor's and master's degrees in aerospace engineering from the University of Pisa in Italy.