During a week (30/Nov – 4/Dec, 2009), about 600 ecologist meet in Savannah (Georgia, USA) for the 4th International Congress on Fire Ecology and Management [web], organised by the Assotiation for Fire Ecology (AFE). The congress included 10 plenary talks and 9 concurrent sessions of 20-minute talks distributed in different topics, plus about 150 posters. The topics discussed include all kind of topics related fire ecology and management; there was however a clear bias towards topics on management, and few talks dealt with pure ecology or the evolutionary consequences of living in fire prone-ecosystems. Four one-day field trips and five workshops completed the program of the Congress.
One of the focus of the conference was the importance of fire management by indigenous, and how modern fire management can learn form that. W. Trollope give a very nice example of the interaction and knowledge transfer between indigenous and modern societies. Current fire managers have a lot to learn from indigenous on this topic. The contrast between the eco-cultural fire management paradigm (many small frequent fires) versus the bio-physical (modern) fire management paradigm was stresses by many of the speakers, from many countries (Brasil, Venezuela, EEUU, Canada, Australia).
The other topic that emerged quite important during the conferences was the role of fire in the global carbon cycling. Prescribed burning is a common and a needed practice for land management in many ecosystems, to maintain low fuel loads (i.e., to prevent catastrophic fires) and to enhance biodiversity (“More prescribed fires mean less wildfires”). This message need to get through the society as there is the possibility of social and political rejection of prescribed fires in order to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. The reduction of prescribed fires would have catastrophic consequences in long-term. The AFE produced a position paper on this topic (pdf).
Other topics I found very interesting were Flammability and Fire history. Understanding flammability is still in its infancy. The large databases on fire history, from both charcoal in sediments and tree scars, is allowing us to better understand the fire history in many ecosystems although still much effort is needed.
The organisers made an effort for the congress to be international, and thus they invited plenary speakers representative of different parts of the world (Australia, Africa, North America, South America, Central America, South Europe, and Central Asia). However, most participant (>90%) were from USA, and the second country represented was Canada. Thus the conference was biased towards fire ecology in North America. I would say that the other continents (Europe, Australia, Africa, South America, Asia) were represented by less than about 5 scientists each. I suppose that for this congress to become international, next edition should be held outside of North America.
Pinewoods (Pinus elliottii, I think) with palmetto (Serenoa repens, I think) dominant in the undertory, mantained by prescribed fires (ca. 2-3 years) in Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge (one of the field trips of the congress).