Fire as a Conservation Tool: Q&A with Dave Campbell

Dave Campbell is a U.S. Forest Service district ranger with the Bitterroot National Forest in Montana. Dave is working with The Nature Conservancy to develop a fire training program for implementation at Zambia's Kafue National Park — the 5th-largest protected area in the world.

This May, Dave’s Forest Service colleagues, TNC's Africa staff and three Arkansas Chapter fire experts will train Kafue National Park staff on the principles of using fire as a conservation tool. Dave discusses this collaboration below, and after the training check our site for results, photos and videos. 

"As conservation leaders, the Forest Service and TNC have a duty to learn from our partners and attempt to craft solutions that fit the particular situation." —Dave Campbell, U.S. Forest Service

Why is the U.S. Forest Service working in Zambia?

Dave Campbell:

Through U.S. Forest Service International Programs, we provide technical assistance to countries outside the U.S. in many areas – park management, fire management. For example, the Forest Service conducted an Environmental Threats and Opportunities Assessment for Zambia in January 2011 with funding from USAID. In this case we had an opportunity to work with TNC, who is a natural partner for us. I was asked to take part initially because I have had experience managing fire in wilderness and non-wilderness areas in the U.S. for a number of years. The objective of our first trip last year was to understand the potential to reduce fire and poaching effects in Kafue National Park. I have been to Africa with the U.S. Forest Service International Program about eight times. We also have helped host the international seminar in protected area management here in Montana each summer since 2008, with the University of Montana and University of Idaho. Participants in the seminar come from all over the world.

What’s unique, if anything, about this particular project at Kafue National Park?

Dave Campbell:

The scale of Kafue and the surrounding game management area is very impressive, though not unique in Africa. At 2 1/2 times the size of Yellowstone, Kafue is a very impressive park. The park’s lack of infrastructure, inaccessibility during the rainy season, insufficient but dedicated staff numbers and few resources make for some big challenges. The Nature Conservancy is interested in the entire Kafue Ecosystem that includes the nine game management areas outside the park – an area of approximately 16.8 million acres.

Where will the training be conducted? Who will be involved on the Zambian side?

Dave Campbell:

The training will be near Chunga at park headquarters in the center part of the park along the Kafue River. Prescribed burning will be conducted just after the rains in order to protect park infrastructure by reducing the amount of fuel present (e.g., dry leaves, grasses and other matter). These burns will be part of the training, with TNC, Forest Service and Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) staff working together with park ecologists and GIS specialists to measure and map the impact.

What is the role of fire in conservation?

Dave Campbell:

Now that's worth writing a book about! The role has evolved in management agencies from total control (or attempted control) to "good fires" in wilderness areas and "bad fires" everywhere else, and now to a much better approach that recognizes the important role of fire, seeking to live with fire and not exclude fire, but protect values at risk from fire. Fire is a natural process, but in Kafue it occurs too frequently and at the wrong time of the year. Currently it occurs late in the dry season, which means it burns very hot, causing damage to trees and plants and hurting the natural regeneration of vegetation. Our objective is to manage fire as a conservation tool in order to maximize the benefits to habitat and thus wildlife in the park ecosystem.

Why is the Forest Service working with The Nature Conservancy?

Dave Campbell:

I think TNC is a natural partner as a conservation organization (I'm a member, as an example). TNC is a worldwide leader in conservation and certainly in the use of fire as a management tool for conservation objectives, very much like Forest Service objectives.

What are your expected outcomes of this training? And what do you hope trainees can do for Kafue in the long run?

Dave Campbell:

The outcome hopefully will be a number of ZAWA staff better able to carry out and monitor prescribed fire and to have in place a system to collect monitoring data and adapt management in the future. We hope the trainees will be able to start and continue a fire program that is monitored and then learn from monitoring results to adapt techniques and burning prescriptions for better outcomes - protecting values and using fire as a management tool.

What concerns do you have?

Dave Campbell:

My main concern is the sustainability of the program. We want to be able to develop it so it can be run by Zambians, with their available resources. This approach is another advantage to working with TNC. The key non-ZAWA partner is Jeremy Pope, TNC’s lead in Zambia.

What do you hope to learn from the Zambians and/or TNC staff involved?

Dave Campbell:

How best to adapt our techniques and experience to the limitations and culture of developing countries. As conservation leaders, the Forest Service and TNC have a duty to learn from our partners and attempt to craft solutions that fit the particular situation. We need to enter into the relationship with humility, but also with the expertise that we can offer.

Anything you’d like to add?

Dave Campbell:

It's a great privilege to work with TNC and ZAWA, especially in such extraordinary landscapes and with such wonderful people.


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