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OSU researcher receives award in name of his mentor and professor

STILLWATER, Okla. – Henry A. Wright was a pioneer and leader in the world of fire ecology. The late professor from Texas Tech University did more than study fire and write textbooks and journal articles. He made a profound impact on his students.
OSU researcher receives award in name of his mentor and professor

John Weir

One of his students, John Weir, research associate in Oklahoma State University’s Department of Natural Resources Ecology and Management, recently received an honor in the name of his mentor.

The Henry A. Wright Lifetime Achievement Award is presented to individuals who have inspired and mentored a generation of fire ecologists. Given by the Association for Fire Ecology, the international award means a lot more to Weir because of the man it is named after.

“I was truly blessed to have him as a professor while getting my master’s degree at Texas Tech,” Weir said. “He taught me a lot and every time I got to burn with him it was quite the experience.”

Weir has taken the knowledge provided by Wright and is blazing a trail of his own. With more than 1,020 prescribed burns under his belt, Weir has taken on a mission of debunking some of the myths associated with fire.

“Fire is essential for bringing back a healthy ecosystem,” Weir said. “After soil and rain, the most important part of a properly functioning ecosystem is fire. The risk of burning is so small, if you do it right, and the benefits are enormous.”

Weir has been relaying that message to students at OSU since 1990 when he was the OSU Research Range superintendent. Since taking a faculty position in 2006, his impact has been profound.

“John’s leadership is a major contributor to NREM’s national prominence as a wildland fire program,” said Dave Engle, NREM interim department head and Regents professor. “Our former students, all of whom learned the science and application of prescribed burning from John, are now fire ecology leaders at other land-grant universities and federal and state agencies across the nation. We are very proud of their stature and their reflection on OSU.”

Former students conducted or assisted with a total of 6,247 prescribed fires on 768,903 hectares from 1999-2014.  A recent survey of these former students found that Weir’s approach to experiential teaching—emphasizing interaction between learner and instructor, such as conducting prescribed burns and spot fire and equipment training— is considered of much greater value than lectures and other passive types of instruction.

“Of course, active experiential teaching requires more instructor time and effort than does lecturing,” said Engle. “It also reflects a high level of dedication to the profession of fire ecology and management.”

Weir’s popular book, ‘Conducting Prescribed Fires, A Comprehensive Manual,’ is an outgrowth of his experience planning and conducting prescribe burns and teaching courses in prescribed burning. The only of its kind, the book provides step-by-step guidance for implementing a prescribed burn. This how-to manual comprehensively covers the waterfront on prescribed burning issues including liability, safety and public relations to the fundamentals of prescribed burning such as ignition devices, smoke management and mop-up.

While Weir is proud of his most recent accomplishment, he knows the faculty and staff at OSU helped along the way.

“I’ve just been so fortunate to work with such great people,” he said.  “It sure makes my job so much easier.”

One awardee of the Henry A. Wright Lifetime Achievement Award is recognized every three years. The 2012 award was presented to Engle.


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