100 Years of Fire Research

Photo: Archival photo of Harry T. Gisborne, first full-time fire researcher in the Forest Service, surveying a forest
Harry T. Gisborne, first full-time fire researcher in the Forest Service. Forest Service photo.

On June 1, 1915, Henry S. Graves established the Branch of Research in the Forest Service to centralize and elevate the pursuit of research throughout the agency. The Branch of Research focused on everything from silvicultural investigations conducted by the experiment stations to industrial studies and wood product improvement at the Madison, Wisconsin, Forest Products Laboratory. From its beginning, the branch oversaw ongoing research designed to develop insights, methods, and technologies to help foresters and land managers better understand, prevent, and suppress wildland fire. On June 1, 2015, the Forest Service celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Branch of Research. To commemorate that event, Deputy Chief for Research and Development Carlos Rodriguez-Franco commissioned Rocky Mountain Research Station Research Historian Diane Smith to write a history of wildland fire research in the Forest Service.

This book, Sustainability and Wildland Fire: The Origins of Forest Service Wildland Fire Research is the result of many hours of working through thousands of documents, going back to the beginnings of the Forest Service, learning alongside researchers as they tested new ideas, explored new approaches, and developed new technologies. They did all of this in pursuit of their quest, in the words of Gifford Pinchot, to “replace with carefully gathered facts the vague general notions that now exist about forest fires.” While Smith writes for a general audience, researchers and land managers can find value in this history of Forest Service fire research that goes back to the early 1900s through the early 1970s. The ultimate goal of this book is to help researchers, managers, and the public better understand the origins of wildland fire research, as well as the management and firefighting decisions based on that research.