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New Mexico State University

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NMSU Cooperative Extension Service creates wildland fire management specialist position

New Mexico's rangelands and forests are facing potentially large-scale wildfires again this summer because there is no relief in sight from multi-year drought based on weather forecasts.

Man holding display while youth in a fireman's hat looks on.
Doug Cram, NMSU Extension wildland fire management specialist, explains to New Mexico's youth how tree density affects forest fire severity by comparing two matchstick forests, one that represents a thinned and burned forest using prescribed fire, and one that represents an untreated forest characterized by tree overstocking. (NMSU photo)

After experiencing two years of record-breaking wildfires with the Las Conchas Fire in 2011 and the Whitewater-Baldy Fire in 2012, New Mexico's natural resource managers are confronting significant challenges in fire damaged areas, such as massive erosion events and the daunting task of stabilizing the nearly 400,000 acres of Southwest mountain range damaged by the wildfires.

As part of New Mexico State University's mission to provide research-based solutions to the needs of the state's communities, NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service, in collaboration with grass-roots stakeholders across the state, has identified the need for a new position - a wildland fire management specialist.

"This specialist has been given the task of developing Extension and research programs designed to bring science to bear regarding all aspects of wildland fires," said Jon Boren, NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service director.

NMSU is one of only two land-grant universities in the United States to create this type of position. Believe it or not, the University of Hawaii was the forerunner in developing a wildland fire management specialist position. The UH position was held by Doug Cram before NMSU hired him to return to his native state to serve in its newly created position.

"I will be focusing on three phases of wildland fire events - before, during and after the fire," Cram said. "For example, how do proactive forest management treatments alter fire behavior, what lessons have we learned from the past that families and communities can implement during a fire, and what post-fire mitigation techniques are effective.

"We are in an unprecedented time regarding preparing for inevitable fires as well as reacting to large contiguous acres of high severity fire," he said. "However, there are some potential bright spots on the horizon including the strengthening of the New Mexico forest industry and its capacity to help thin forests, as well as partnerships with the New Mexico Forest and Watershed Restoration Institute and the Southwest Fire Science Consortium."

Prior to assuming the University of Hawaii position, Cram was with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service where he studied fire ecology in the Southwest. A graduate of Los Alamos High School, Cram earned a bachelor's degree in wildlife science at NMSU, a master's degree in forest resources from Oklahoma State University, and a doctorate in range science from NMSU.