National Network Underscores Promise of Adoption through Proactive Dialogue with End Users

By Josh Rasmussen

Collaboration is central to meaningful progress in R&D and adoption of new technologies, and the Eastern Innovation Landscape Network (EILN) has taken that to heart. A recent U.S. Forest Service (USFS)-hosted site visit for wildland fire researchers to the Silas Little Experimental Forrest—a 592-acre swath of land in the New Jersey Pine Barrens ideally suited to wildland fire science technology innovation and field experimentation—highlighted collaborative efforts within the wildland fire community and the strength of the EILN’s design.

The EILN, part of the National Innovation Landscape Network (NILN), is an effort to align science, policy, management, and agency partnerships to effectively meet the challenges of climate change through an accelerated technology transfer and adaptation program across representative DoD landscapes.

The Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP) and the Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP) fund a portfolio of wildland fire research projects collectively called the “Wildland Fire Science Initiative.” SERDP and ESTCP Executive Director Dr. Kimberly Spangler joined wildland fire researchers, U.S. Forest Service representatives, and staffers from the office of Sen. Cory Booker‘s of New Jersey at Silas Little to engage with and learn from these fire researchers and practitioners.

The visit showcased prescribed burn methodology; demonstrated new technologies, including a relatively new terrestrial application of LiDAR (light detection and ranging) that can produce 3D scans of landscapes; and both highlighted and created new networking opportunities to expand the peer-to-peer relationships that helped originally form the EILN.

Figure 1: Nick Skowronski, research forester with the Northern Research Station based at the Forest Sciences Laboratory in Morgantown, West Virginia, explains field measurement techniques with Colin Hardy, Ph.D., Fire Science technical advisor, Noblis (SERDP ESTCP)

The tour included a stop at the perimeter of Joint Base McGuire–Dix–Lakehurst to discuss ways to prevent accidental fires started at Department of Defense firing ranges by pre-empting them with prescribed burns, employing innovative new technologies.

The event closed with a demo. It was a very small scale demo according to Dr. Allison Narizzano, a Toxicologist detailed to SERDP and ESTCP, “something that struck me,” she said, “was how controlled the burn was. They lit a circle of fuel on fire with a torch, and basically, the leaves went away, but the underbrush was still there. It was just scorched.”

Dr. Colin Hardy Fire Science technical advisor, Noblis, said with terrestrial LiDAR, researchers have been able to perform rapid response measure of fuels that has never been done before. Impressed by the technology, and in the vein of collaboration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife has committed to deploying these portable instruments on U.S. Fish and Wildlife grounds.

With terrestrial LiDAR, Dr. Hardy said, “We can inform fire behavior models. We’re trying to create user-friendly, simplified models that managers can use.”

One critical facet of the EILN is establishing trust and engaging in dialogue with fire managers—the end users—throughout the process.

James Furman, current U.S Forest Service Liaison at Air Force Wildland Fire Branch and former fire manager at Florida’s Eglin Air Force Base with decades of experience in fire management said, “Researchers started realizing in order for their projects to be meaningful, they needed dialogue with fire managers to find out what they actually needed—what questions they had.”

Engaging in dialogue with fire managers helps promising new technologies cross the proverbial valley of death between research and adoption and get cutting-edge solutions off the shelf.

Dr. Hardy said SERDP and ESTCP-funded projects have increased visibility and given Mr. Kevin Hiers, the Resource Conservation and Climate Resilience Program Manager for SERDP and ESTCP, an opportunity to strategize where to make investments to create actionable science that can be used on the ground.


Formation and Promise of the National Innovation Landscape Network

Through the SERDP and ESTCP-funded Wildland Fire Science Initiative, researchers came together for prescribed burns to streamline the data collection process and demonstrate different technologies. This also helped take the load off researchers planning separate events to collect data and demonstrate technologies, an aspiration previous Program Manager for Resource Conservation, Kurt Preston, has termed “data harmonization.”

Smoke plume and staging area at Eglin AFB prescribed burn, March 2023. Photo credit: Colin Hardy—Noblis

Dr. Tracy Mallard, Strategic Partnerships Lead, Noblis, said “This became a pathway for researchers to talk to fire managers at the U.S. Department of Defense or other agencies and get real-time updates. Out of that, the NILN was born, and it formalizes the communication pathways that the Wildland Fire Science Initiative pilots. The NILN scales what we’ve learned across federal lands.”

The NILN is technically a network of networks, with roots across the South, and is already reaching as far away as Alaska, where permafrost thaw, in particular, is an area of concern. When the federal Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission released its final report to Congress in September 2023, recommending improvements for how federal agencies manage wildfire, two recommendations highlighted SERDP- and ESTCP-funded wildland fire research and demonstration efforts.

The Commission advocated for increasing “multi-year funding for existing research entities and programs to improve the identification of research needs and the dissemination of recent work,” and acknowledged that scientific research underpins wildland fire treatment and management practices. However, existing funding levels were not adequate to address current and future needs. As a result, the Commission directed the Joint Fire Science Program, funded by the Department of Interior and U.S. Forest Service, to collaborate more with SERDP and ESTCP to prioritize key wildland fire research needs.

The commission also stated Congress should “provide funding to support Innovation Landscapes research areas,” citing the NILN initiative that SERDP and ESTCP have spearheaded alongside the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) with the goal of accelerating the rate of innovation in climate adaptation technologies by improving collaboration between researchers, managers, and the installation community.

The NILN continues to expand, and the EILN is currently active, demonstrating a quartet of technologies: QUIC-Fire, FastFuels, BurnPro 3D, and both aerial and terrestrial LiDAR, each of which has promise for adoption.

“There are tools coming online that are allowing us to measure things in ways we haven’t been able to in the past,” Nick Skowronski, research forester with the U.S. Forrest Service Northern Research Station said, during a presentation for, and captured and published by, Southern Fire Exchange titled, “Terrestrial LIDAR Scanning: QUIC-Fire Modeling of New Jersey Wildfire.”


Fuel sampling and Terrestrial Lidar Scanning (TLS) of a research plot at Eglin AFB prescribed burn, March 2023. Photo credit: Mary Nell Armstrong—Southern Fire Exchange

QUIC-Fire is the first, fast-running, 3D-coupled fire-atmosphere model to incorporate high-resolution 3D vegetation structure, interactions across multiple firelines, and fire-atmosphere feedback—critical for predicting the behavior of complex ignition patterns common on prescribed fires. QUIC-Fire is intended to serve as a core component of a prescribed fire planning tool to assist land managers in understanding how ignition patterns connect to fire effects and smoke impacts.


FastFuels is a tool that provides 3D vegetative fuels data to the next generation of wildfire simulation models. It allows users to quickly generate fuels data to meet the needs of prescribed fire management, silvicultural prescription design, scenario simulation, fire effects, and fire risk assessments.


BurnPro3D is a platform for proactive fire management, designed for use in fire mitigation by land managers and burn bosses to prioritize land for treatment as well as to plan and conduct prescribed burns. It uses a coupled fire/atmosphere model to capture the interaction between user-defined complex ignition patterns and environmental conditions.

Terrestrial LiDAR

LiDAR (light detection and ranging) is a remote sensing method used to examine the surface of the Earth, and terrestrial LiDAR can provide measurement of the forest structure itself. It is capable of capturing many metrics as once, is cost-effective, and requires minimal training.

Scaling these technologies, however, requires fire manager buy-in. Brett Williams, USFS Southern Region Fire and Aviation Management (FAM) Technology Transfer Specialist, suggested a critical component to creating buy-in is establishing trust.

“When you get a new group of fire people together,” he said, “it takes a minute to develop trust. Having ambassadors or champions goes a long way.”

Based on Mr. Furman and Mr. Williams’ experience working at Eglin Air Force base, the installations large and traditionally open-minded to fire science research projects. Mr. Furman and Mr. Williams observed Eglin Air Force Base’s culture of open-mindedness to be built on established trust between fire managers and researchers. As the EILN looks to scale adoption of fire science tools across DoD, U.S. Forest Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lands, it will require also scaling the culture established at Eglin AFB.

“Some programs are relatively small, compared to Eglin and Ft. Stewart,” Mr. Furman said. “There’s going to be a lot of neat stuff happening at these places, and those that are willing to lean forward can have a say—an actual stake in the development of these next-gen fire tools that are proving useful to managers. When I have shown these next generation fire model simulations to fire managers across the country, I’ve heard unanimously, ‘Wow, when will this be available for us?’”



The Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP) and the Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP) harness the latest science and technology to improve the Department of Defense’s environmental performance, reduce costs, and enhance and sustain mission capabilities. The programs respond to energy and environmental technology requirements across the military services. SERDP and ESTCP are independent DoD programs managed jointly to coordinate the full spectrum of research and development efforts, from the laboratory to field demonstration and validation. For more information, visit Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.