News Release

Dr. Erin Belval honored for exemplary fire science research

Grant and Award Announcement

USDA Forest Service - Rocky Mountain Research Station

Erin Belval accepting Early Career Scientist Award from Kelly Martin, president of the International Association of Wildland Fire


Dr. Belval, left, holds her award with the IAWF president Kelly Martin in Boise, Idaho.

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Credit: IAWF staff

FORT COLLINS, Colo., June 4, 2024 — Dr. Erin Belval, a research forester at the USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station, was awarded the Early Career Scientist Award in Fire Science from the International Association of Wildland Fire (IAWF). She received the honor last month at the 2024 International Wildland Fire Conference in Boise, Idaho.

The award recognizes promising early-career professionals who demonstrate outstanding ability in any field of wildland fire science. Belval was nominated by colleagues and peers for her outstanding contributions.

“The award is particularly meaningful because I admire and appreciate the IAWF community and how the association connects practitioners and scientists across the spectrum of wildland fire work,” Belval said. “These collaborations with people who generously share their time and expertise with me are what make my research possible.”

Belval joined the Rocky Mountain Research Station in 2021 and is based in Fort Collins, Colorado. She completed her Ph.D. at nearby Colorado State University, where she also worked as a postdoctoral researcher in collaboration with scientists at the research station. Belval has led studies of the wildland fire dispatching system structure and performance; retention and well-being of wildland fire personnel; projections of wildland fire activity and implications for cost and personnel; and how COVID-19 affected firefighter health and wildland fire suppression operations.

“I am always impressed by the dedication of those in the wildland fire community and the work they do, and it’s my hope that my research can help with that work,” said Belval.

Dr. Jeffrey Morisette, program manager of Human Dimensions research at the station, said, “Dr. Belval’s rigorous and tenacious harvesting of historical data has allowed her to develop an astute long-term perspective on wildland fire resource use and workforce trends. She is remarkable in her ability to match in-depth, cutting-edge statistical analysis with some of the most pressing questions facing the Forest Service.”

Although still considered an early career scientist, Belval is a nationally regarded expert on firefighting personnel usage and safety. She recently served as a member of the national-level Interagency Hotshot Crew Programmatic Review, which comprehensively examined the program over its 80-year history. The review contributes to ongoing firefighter workforce improvement efforts, and its recommendations informed President Biden’s 2024 budget and legislative proposals to implement a permanent pay increase for federal firefighters.

In addition to her research about the firefighter workforce, Belval contributes to work on fuel break effectiveness as a member of the research station’s Wildfire Risk Management Science team. WRMS team leader and fellow research forester Dr. Dave Calkin said, “I couldn’t imagine a more deserving individual. Erin has dedicated herself to advancing our understanding of how the increasingly complex fire environment and fire response system impacts the financial, physical, and mental well-being of wildland firefighters. She has used that information to inform senior leaders, managers, scientists, and the fire management community of the nature and scale of several high-profile critical issues affecting the workforce and increases the impact of her findings by offering potential solutions.” Calkin added, “Erin approaches her work with incredible integrity, intellectual rigor, and kindness to all who have the pleasure of working with her.”

To learn more about Dr. Belval’s award and research in wildland fire management, visit: 

Visit IAWF for more information on their awards.

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