An Interest Sparked by Fire

Six seasons of wildland fire experience sparked the interest of graduate student Jena Ferrarese. Her experience convinced her that accurate and applicable data is needed to support effective fire management. Because of that belief, Ferrarese is now focused on providing relevant information with practical applications.

“The output of an equation is only as good as the information you start with for the model,” says Ferrarese. “My work is about improving the way we measure and model fuels to enhance our understanding of the way a fire might behave. Then, we can offer managers better information with which to make decisions.”

Fire management professionals have taken notice of her research. Ferrarese is the recipient of this year’s Systems for Environmental Management (SEM) scholarship. Based in Missoula, SEM is a nonprofit research and educational corporation run by husband and wife team Barbara Riley and Colin Bevins.

Jena Ferrarese

“Winning a scholarship is an important recognition,” Ferrarese said. “I am excited that my work is helping make an impact in a field that is personal to me. Fire is part of the landscape in the west, and I want to contribute to the stewardship of the lands we all care about.”

After her undergraduate studies and a variety of work experiences in some extraordinary places, Ferrarese says UM is a good fit. “I graduated from high school in Rockford, Mich., then went on to study natural resources with a concentration in forest ecology at Cornell University,” she says. “After graduation I did summer stints working for the National Park Service in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah, and the U.S. Forest Service in Idaho. But for seven seasons, my winters belonged to Antarctica, where I worked as a private contractor at McMurdo Station, the largest U.S. base.”

While in Antarctica, Ferrarese worked as a meteorological technician, cargo handler and helicopter technician. She says her time there was a great experience before deciding to get serious about settling down in Missoula for graduate school.

Ferrarese says she chose UM primarily because of Professor Carl Seielstad. He’s a former smokejumper, still active in fire as an incident commander, and one of the country’s leading experts in the use of laser scanning to quantify and identify fuels. Seielstad also implemented the University’s Prescribed Fire Practicum in partnership with the National Center for Landscape Fire Analysis, the campus research group where Jena and Carl work. Each January, ten UM students use prescribed burning for ecological restoration in the southeastern U.S. Most of them have fire backgrounds, but the practicum challenges them to fill new leadership roles and to put into practice what they’ve learned in the classroom about ecology, fire behavior and working with landowner partners.

Seielstad says Ferrarese’s engagement and interest in her work sets her apart from others. “She is a doer,” Seielstad says. “She volunteers for everything, happily, and gets things done.”

Pictured above: Jena Ferrarese, courtesy of Patrick Record.