Bridging Science and Practice: My Journey with the SW CASC Cohort

July 8, 2024
Photographer engages with the base of a fire covered in sparks and ash as the winds blow

A photo I took of Justin Sullivan shooting low, Camp Fire, 2018 (printed 2020). Original photo taken by Noah Berger.

USU Nora Eccles Museum of Art - Facing Fire Exhibition

Growing up in Southern California, I witnessed the devastating effects of wildfires, which fueled my drive for understanding and mitigating wildfire risks. Now, as a graduate student at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, I am researching interactions between land use planning in Southern California, wildfire risk, and human settlement in the wildland urban interface. 

As part of the Natural Resources Workforce Development Fellowship (NRWD), we attended (workshop here) in Logan, UT. One of the highlights of my trip to Logan last September was visiting the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art, where I viewed the exhibition labeled “Facing Fire: Art, Wildfire, and the End of Nature in the New West”. The exhibition showcased the work of twelve artists as they faced fire in the West, sifted its aftermath and struggled with the implications. The varying mediums of art reflected a comprehensive and diverse story of fire, asking viewers to consider the impact of humanity on the environment and what the future holds for a land increasingly at the mercy of nature. This narrative paralleled our own cohort’s research objective of uncovering how resource managers understand the increasing aridity phenomenon that is contributing to the megadrought in the Southwest US.

In the time since my initial visit to Utah, I have gained valuable team-building and research insights working with my NRWD cohort to bridge the gap between research and natural resource management decision-making. One of the benefits of being part of this cohort has been engaging in insightful conversations where everyone has diverse perspectives. Each fellow's unique background and skills have allowed us to tackle complex projects collaboratively. However, this diversity has also posed challenges, such as longer decision-making processes and coordinating tasks amidst our individual responsibilities. We have overcome these challenges by establishing clear guidelines for task delegation and decision-making, whether by majority vote or consensus, which has helped us progress despite conflicting schedules and ideas.

Additionally, engaging with natural resource management decision-makers has been a rewarding experience. We have interacted with a range of extension specialists across the Southwest US to refine our project goals and survey questions. Their receptiveness and responsiveness has been encouraging, and their expertise has greatly informed our project. From these interactions, I have gained valuable insights into decision-making processes, particularly regarding aridification and water scarcity issues faced by local ranchers and rangeland managers in the southwest.

My advice for others seeking to engage with decision-makers is to respect their schedules and deadlines. Rushing the collaboration process can be detrimental. Instead, take the time to build genuine relationships and provide clear, concise information about your project. Effective communication and patience are key to successful engagement.

This fellowship has provided me with a platform to blend my scientific inquiry with practical decision-making. My experience has underscored the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration and the value of diverse perspectives in tackling environmental challenges. 

For more information on our project and to stay updated on our progress, visit the Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center website in the coming months, and check out other blog posts from the lovely 2023-2024 cohort. Many thanks to the Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center for supporting our efforts to make science accessible and impactful.