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Wildfire Awareness and Prevention in the Western Pacific

Wildfires caused by humans, climatic shifts, and increases in fire-prone vegetation are a growing issue within the U.S. affiliated Pacific Islands (USAPI). Island wildfires might burn a smaller area than the fires we see in the mainland U.S. but relatively speaking, they burn a much greater percentage of the available land. In response to the wildfire problem in the USAPI, the US Forest Service Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry (IPIF) has prioritized three strategies: (i) Wildfire monitoring and mapping, (ii) education and awareness, and (iii) implementing ecosystem restoration and wildfire prevention measures.

Past fire mapping efforts were carried out intermittently and so the resulting data does not provide a complete record of the historical location and size of wildfires. However, since 2015, IPIF has been using fine spatial resolution satellite imagery from the Digital Globe EV Web Hosting Service to consistently monitor and map fires. These remote sensing-derived datasets have enabled the correlation of wildfire trends with weather patterns, and provide input for prioritizing locations for wildfire prevention measures. 

On Palau, IPIF has supported the production and distribution of wildfire education and awareness products including: roadside prevention messages made by Melekeok State elementary students; fire posters displayed in Koror State high schools, government buildings, and on the Coral Reef Research Foundation website; fire information sheets distributed to Palau partner agencies; a video commercial periodically played on Palau public television since 2015; four public radio interviews since 2012, and oral presentations at national and international natural resource conferences.On Guam, IPIF are partnering with the Guam Forestry Division, Guam Department of Education, Pacific Fire Exchange, Center for Getting Things Started, Coral Reef Research Foundation, and local teachers and cultural experts to develop a wildfire prevention curriculum for grades 6-12 that incorporates indigenous language, cultural values, local fire maps and data, and information about how wildfires are handled in their communities. Once the Guam curriculum is developed, it will be modified to be more site-specific and culturally relevant to other islands throughout Micronesia.

IPIF are working with partners on Palau and Guam to implement wildfire presentation measures and ecosystem restoration. For example, Palau’s Protected Area Network and Palau Forestry used IPIF wildfire maps to locate shaded fuel breaks in two protected areas. Fire maps have also been used to justify vegetation treatment in Guam’s wildland-urban interface areas in 2019. Based on three fire seasons, these maps have been used to identify the location of another shaded fuel break in the Cetti watershed of Guam in an area most likely not to burn. 

To find out more about IPIF's work on the wildfire problem, please read their report: 2020 Partners in Science - Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry and the U.S.-Affiliated Pacific Islands