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USDA Forest Service scientists receive prestigious award for innovations to the National Fire Danger Rating System

Posted date: March 09, 2018

MISSOULA, Mont., March 9, 2018 - Matt Jolly and Larry Bradshaw of the USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station have received the most prestigious award offered by the wildland fire community, the Paul Gleason Lead By Example Award, for their efforts to modernize and improve the National Fire Danger Rating System (NFDRS).

“You are being recognized for your work transitioning the NFDRS indices into a valuable decision support tool. Your commitment to making things better for firefighters on the ground became a reality with an updated system that better reflects conditions on the ground, resulting in increased safety and the ability to manage risk,” said Shane Olpin, Chair of the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) Leadership Committee.

The first National Fire Danger Rating System (NFDRS) was released by the USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station Fire Lab in 1972. This system is widely used by all in wildland fire. The updated version, known as NFDRS 2016, is noted for being able to meet the needs of decision makers at all levels, while remaining simple and relevant to operational fire fighters. The new system also takes into account fuel moisture levels and improves forecasting and multiple scales.

“The intent of their work was to provide a simpler, more intuitive system that will continue to serve as the original decision support tool for firefighters and fire managers. The NFDRS is the foundation for nearly all wildland fire preparedness and response decisions made throughout the country,” said Garth Fisher, Chair of the NWCG Executive Board.

Ultimately, this next-generation system paves the way for a nationally-relevant and spatially-continuous fire danger rating system that can adequately depict fire danger across a range of climates and fuel types and that can meet the needs of fire management decision makers from local to national scales.

The award is given by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group, which represents the entire wildland fire community, including federal agencies, states, tribes, and more. The award recognizes those who set the example through leadership and practice of the wildland fire leadership values and principles and to those who stand out because they are visionaries, mentors, or innovators. This award is different from other firefighting or agency awards because it focuses specifically on leadership in the firefighter ranks.

“Larry Bradshaw has been involved in the development, operations, and maintenance of our nation’s fire danger rating system almost from its inception. For the past decade, Dr. Jolly has brought his internationally-recognized science to bear to provide a simpler, more intuitive system based on the most recent science. As a team, Jolly and Bradshaw have worked with numerous colleagues across the nation to make this new version a reality,” said Colin Hardy, leader of the USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station Fire, Fuel and Smoke Science Program. “Most significant, I think, is that these two have done much of this novel and impactful work as collateral duties – meaning it is in addition to their primary programs of work—in service-to the nation’s entire wildland fire management enterprise. These employees are recognized by their peers and by top level leadership for a reason – they are making a difference in the lives of American taxpayers while advancing scientific studies at the highest level. I am immensely proud of their achievements, and grateful for their service.”


The Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS) is one of seven units within the U.S. Forest Service Research and Development. RMRS maintains 14 field laboratories throughout a 12-state territory encompassing parts of the Great Basin, Southwest, Rocky Mountains, and the Great Plains. RMRS also administers and conducts research on 14 experimental forests, ranges and watersheds and maintains long-term research databases for these areas. While anchored in the geography of the West our research is global in scale. To find out more about the RMRS go to You can also follow us on Twitter at




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Jennifer Hayes
Public Affairs Specialist