A diverse panel of nine professionals whose work involves wildfires and land management headline a Tuesday, Oct. 24 examination of this year’s wildfire season.
Sponsored by Treesource, the free public event will be held at the University of Montana’s University Center Theater. A pre-event reception is set for 6:30 p.m., with the panelists’ presentations beginning at 7 p.m.
The event will be streamed live via Treesource’s Facebook page for those who cannot attend in person. A video of the entire event also will be posted on the Treesource YouTube channel.
Questions will be taken both from the live audience and from the Facebook watchers. MCAT also will carry the presentation live.
Here is a detailed look at each of the panelists.
Emily Rindal says she has had “the privilege of growing up” in many different places in Montana, including Havre, Shelby, Bozeman, and Kalispell. At a young age, her father instilled in her the importance of community and of giving back to the community, while her mother simultaneously instilled a great appreciation of the natural world—which has made Seeley Lake the perfect place for Emily to land.
Emily received her bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology from the University of Montana, where she became fascinated with insects. In 2009, she started the Emily Rindal Insurance Agency, under Farmers Insurance, in Missoula, and moved the agency to Seeley Lake in 2010.
Emily serves on the board of directors of the Seeley Lake Community Foundation. She has served on the board for the Seeley Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, and also has been involved in the local Nordic Challenge Steering Committee, Branding Committee and Lion’s Club.
Emily says she finds her peace and energy in nature, and she especially enjoys exploring and hiking with her dog Kiva, an Australian shepherd.
Sarah Coefield has been an air quality specialist with the Missoula City-County Health Department since 2010.
She takes the lead for smoke management and large projects in the air program. She also runs point during wildfire smoke episodes, making frequent announcements by radio and other means, evaluating local air quality to keep the public informed and alerted.
Prior to joining the health department, Sarah completed master’s degrees in wildlife toxicology and environmental journalism at Michigan State University.
She grew up in Helena, where her father, John Coefield, was the air-quality meteorologist for the Montana Department of Environmental Quality until his retirement in 2010.
Her father’s work sparked Sarah’s interest in air quality, and she has been building and expanding upon the wildfire-smoke response her father pioneered in the early 2000s.
Phil Higuera is an associate professor of fire ecology in the Department of Ecosystem and Conservation Sciences at the University of Montana’s College of Forestry and Conservation.
He has a master’s degree and a Ph.D., both in forest ecology. Both are from the University of Washington in Seattle. What is surprising is that, as an undergraduate at Middlebury College in Vermont, Phil had a hard time choosing a major. So he ended up with a bachelor’s degree in Biology, Geology, and Environmental Studies. Of course, with three majors, Phil was spread pretty thin for study hours. Which explains why he graduated magna cum laude, a Latin term for underachieving.
After post-doctoral training at a university in Bozeman, Phil spent six years as an assistant professor of fire ecology at the University of Idaho, where he started his own lab and pursued research in Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, and Tasmania, Australia. Two years ago, he joined the UM faculty as an associate professor. He continues to work in those regions, and he teaches fire ecology courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels.
Phil’s research interests include understanding the interactions among climate, vegetation, and fire regimes, over time scales of decades to millennia. Much of the work that he and his lab do involves reconstructing and analyzing patterns and processes that can’t be observed in a single human life span. Such research provides context for ongoing environmental change, and helps anticipate the consequences of future environmental change. For example, Phil and his lab are investigating post-fire regeneration of trees in Rocky Mountain forests, and the history and consequences of large wildfires in the region over the past 2,500 years.
He enjoys backcountry skiing, mountain biking and backpacking.
Colin Hardy is the Program Manager for the Fire, Fuel, and Smoke Science Program at the U.S. Forest Service Fire Sciences Laboratory in Missoula. His research organization is the largest unit in the country dedicated to wildland fire. The lab here has the most comprehensive suite of combustion and wind-tunnel facilities in the world.
His Program’s sub-specialties include Fire Ecology; Physical Fire Processes; Wildland Fuel Science; Smoke Chemistry and Dispersion; and Spatial Analyses and Applications to Support Fire Management Decision-making. The Firelab employs more than 80 professionals, who together bring nearly $10 million annually to the local economy.
Colin is a native Missoulian, and a second-generation fire scientist. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Resource Conservation from the University of Montana, a master’s degree in Forest Resource Management from the University of Washington, and a Ph.D. in Forestry from the University of Montana. His doctoral work focused on thermal infrared remote sensing.
Colin was the lead scientist for the national Fire Regime Condition Class Project and was also the lead editor and compiler of the National Wildfire Coordinating Group’s Smoke Management Guide for Prescribed and Wildland Fire.
Matt Arno grew up on a small family forest in Florence, Montana. That’s where he learned about forest ecology and fire-adapted forests from his father Steve, who was a research forester at the U.S. Forest Service’s Fire Science Lab for 20-plus years and is a well-known forest-science author.
Matt graduated from the University of Montana School of Forestry in 1993.
The year before graduating, he started a business called Woodland Restoration, specializing in low-impact thinning and logging by using farm tractors. With the help of a number of partners, Woodland Restoration grew to include forestry consulting, fuels-reduction treatments and high-tech equipment.
In 2011, Matt became the forestry coordinator for the Blackfoot Challenge, an organization that promotes better rural communities in the Blackfoot River Basin through cooperative conservation. In 2016, Matt started working as the local government forest advisor for the Montana Department of Natural Resources & Conservation.
He lives in the Wildland Urban Interface near Bonner, where he and his wife Melissa are working on getting their forest in a fire-resistant, healthy condition before it burns in a wildfire.
Bob Yokelson is a research professor in atmospheric chemistry at the University of Montana.
To help pay for college, he worked as a firefighter on national forests in Idaho and Montana, and he worked as a sawyer on thinning projects for Lubrecht Forest and Champion Timberlands in Montana.
Bob earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from UM in 1986 and a Ph.D. in chemical physics from Yale University in 1991. After Yale, he did post-doctoral work in atmospheric chemistry at NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Bob joined the UM faculty in 1993. His research specialty is biomass burning. For more than 20 years he has been involved in various global projects that have revealed much about what goes into wildfire smoke plumes, what happens to the chemical fumes as they age, and what that means for land managers. To find the answers, Bob sets up specially equipped airplanes that can measure the chemical components of smoke and analyze the physics of their movements while he and his colleagues fly right through the plumes.
Greg Poncin started working as a seasonal firefighter for the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation in 1981. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Montana School of Forestry in 1985.
Except for one year as a forester for Champion International, Greg has spent his entire career with the DNRC. He has worked for the department’s Fire and Aviation Management Bureau in Missoula, the Plains unit, the Polson field office, and as the Kalispell unit manager. He is currently the area manager for the department’s northwestern land office.
Greg has been active on wildfire-incident management teams since 1998. He’s finishing his ninth year as Incident Commander for one of two Type 1 Incident Management Teams in the Northern Rockies.
Type 1 teams deal with fire incidents that have the highest complexity. Type 1 teams are a national resource comprised of the most experienced and most highly trained incident managers. The U.S. has 16 of these federally sponsored interagency teams, spread among nine geographic areas. These teams are routinely called upon to go anywhere in the country to manage complex wildfire incidents.
Greg is a second-generation Montana forester. He lives in Kalispell with his three children.
Bill Avey graduated with a degree in Forestry from the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point. In 1981, he started his Forest Service career on the Big Horn National Forest in Wyoming as a forestry technician.
In 1988, he moved to the Manti-LaSal National Forest in Utah, where he worked as an assistant fire-management officer. After that he went to work in the Wisdom and Madison ranger districts of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest in Montana. He served there in recreation, trails, timber, wilderness management, minerals, lands and special uses, first as a forester and then as a district resource assistant.
Between 2000 and 2010, Bill was a district ranger in Big Timber and Livingston for the Gallatin National Forest. During that time he also did several stints as acting deputy forest supervisor or acting forest supervisor in the agency’s northern and southwest regions.
Bill has served as Agency Administrator on multiple large and complex fires. In 2006, he received the National Line Officer Team Award for Fire Leadership. He became Deputy Director of Fire, Aviation and Air for the Northern Region of the Forest Service in 2010.
Now he serves as Forest Supervisor of the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest.
Chris Bryant earned a bachelor’s degree in Geology at the University of Oregon sometime in the 1990s and then spent several years working on academic field experiments and leading mineral-exploration crews internationally.
He returned to UO for a master’s degree in Journalism, graduating in 2000. Soon after, he moved to Montana to work for IJNR, the Institute for Journalism & Natural Resources, as an associate director. IJNR’s mission is to increase public understanding of complicated environment issues through better journalism. At IJNR, Chris helped organize and conduct field expeditions designed for groups of reporters and editors.
In 2008, Chris started working for The Nature Conservancy in western Montana on industrial-forestland divestment issues—particularly old Plum Creek Timber properties. He is now the conservancy’s western Montana Director of Land Protection.
In addition to working with private land conservation-easement holders, The Nature Conservancy owns and manages about 150,000 acres, mostly in the Blackfoot Valley. Chris also serves on the board of directors of the Blackfoot Challenge.