Great Plains Fire CommunityGet to Know the Fire Community Series
John Weir, Research Associate at Oklahoma State University, was recently awarded the Henry Wright Lifetime Achievement award from The Association for Fire Ecology.
How did you come to get interested in working with fire?
Honestly, I liked to set stuff on fire when I was a kid so it comes naturally. It did start at an early age. When I was in Jr. High, I also noticed how wildfires impacted the trees and the grass grew back, and I knew Native Americans burned a lot. So, I kept putting things together and figured out that fire was important. Then when I went to college, I got to help with a NRCS [Natural Resource Conservation Service] burn that was exciting. Then going to Texas Tech, I got to burn a lot with Dr. Henry Wright and work on several fire research projects; that really got me going even more. Then, I ended up at Oklahoma State running the OSU Range Research Station and fire was very central to the research and work going on there, so I just fit right in and have not looked back since.
Please describe your professional interests and expertise related to wildland fire?
My main interests are prescribed burn associations and how to get more fire on the land, especially in private land settings. I really enjoy training and showing people how to burn safely and effectively. On a research and fire ecology level, I like working with season of burn impacts and continually learning how important fire is to all aspects of the ecosystem.
What changes have you seen in the fire landscape over your career?
I have seen cedars and other woody plants increase dramatically, but the greatest thing I have seen is the increased use of prescribed fire across the state of Oklahoma and the region. This is noted by the number of burn associations, acres being burned, importance of fire to NGOs, state and federal agencies, and really just how much interest in fire has increased over the past 25 years.
How has fire science changed how fire is being used at Oklahoma State University over time?
Fire science has had a huge impact on fire use at OSU. It has increased the amount and types of research being done. There is more research going on with fire at all levels, from below ground level to birds and butterflies flying around and everything in between.
What are the most important questions we need to answer for grassland fire ecology today?
One is to continue to work on fire history to show how much fire was actually on the ground and secondly continue to look at season of burn impacts to specific plants (native and invasive) and plant communities.
Can you describe a particular finding that you think has been ground breaking for grassland management?
I think the patch burn work that has been done is so important and instrumental. It's not a new concept, it's just proving what Native Americans knew already. This work has done so much to show how important fire and grazing are, how important the different habitats that fire and grazing create are important to birds, mammals and insects. But probably the most important part of it is the bringing together work on fire at an international level because this is something that happens on every continent except Antarctica and that's probably because we haven’t been there yet.