Natural resources manager works to keep the 'Fabric of the Academy'

  • Published
  • By Amber Baillie
  • Academy Spirit staff writer
After 35 years as a U.S. forester, Academy natural resources manager Diane Strohm is no amateur when it comes to fire intelligence and forest protection.

Strohm is from Vermont; she's been in charge of forest management and wild land fire prevention here for 10 years, managing forest thinning and restoration, fuel mitigation, Bark beetle control, tree planting and prescribed burning projects - just to name a few.

While Strohm's responsibilities may stretch far and wide, she said she's devoted to fighting fires, allowing Academy trees and wildlife to thrive.

"The forest is the fabric of the Academy," she said. "I'm really passionate about taking care of it. It's been a real challenge with the drought and having catastrophic fires. We've been mechanically thinning about 150 forest acres a year. The health of the forest is also so important for wildlife habitat."

Strohm's efforts earned her a Commander's Choice Award this month from Lt. Col. Jose Rivera, the 10th Civil Engineer Squadron commander, said Robert Fant, 10th CES asset management chief.

"Our Commander's Choice Award provides our boss the opportunity to recognize those who have demonstrated continued excellence in all they do," he said. "Since the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires, the work Diane has been doing in wild land fire prevention here has the attention of our leadership. She works every day to keep our chance to have a wildfire invade the Academy as low as it can possibly be."

Strohm has a master's degree in forestry and has worked for the U.S. Forest Service for 25 years in Colorado, Montana, Oregon and Vermont.

"Ever since I was in junior high, I've loved the woods and science," she said. "When I was with the U.S. Forest Service I fought fires. I would plan, design, implement and run crews doing fires. Now my niche is fire intelligence."

For the past 12 years, the Academy's Natural Resources team has been installing strategic fuel breaks and was able to clear an area halting the Waldo Canyon fire from spreading through the Academy.

"It was really gratifying to know that it was our work that made it accessible for firefighters to stop that fire," Strohm said. "We coordinate with the fire department but we're the ones who do all the fire mitigation."

Strohm said her team is focused on restoring the Academy's forest; one recent project she coordinated was installing fuel breaks on ridges and long roads here.

"We never know where the next fire will head," she said. "There are three parts of a fire behavioral triangle: fuels, terrain and weather. The only one we can do anything about is fuels, and that is why our fuels management program here is so important."

Strohm said her team went into action when the Academy's forest was threatened by the Mountain pine beetle in 2007.

"We were borderline epidemic," she said. "By 2010 we were down almost 300 trees that were infested. We focused on battling that issue and within the last few years have only found one infested tree. This is the beetle that destroyed millions of acres in Colorado. I feel proud we were able to withstand epidemic loss here. It would have taken thousands of trees if we had not acted on that."

In 2000, Strohm became a certified infrared interpreter. She said there are less than 50 in the country.

"Last year I was gone for five weeks helping map national fires using infrared imagery," she said. "It required a lot of time and is stressful but it's very gratifying for me."

As the initial infrared interpreter for the Hayman fire in 2002, Strohm said the wildfire grew 62,000 acres in one day, zipping across 19 miles in 24 hours.

"I don't think people realize if there is a fire 20 miles away from them, there is a chance it could quickly reach them," she said. "Depending on winds, typography and fuels, fires can be absolutely catastrophic."

Strohm said fire education and prevention is a shared responsibility among first responders and land owners. In her spare time, Strohm leads a community wildfire protection plan for her own neighborhood.

"We've had about 18 homes interested and have had several meetings thus far," she said. "We're trying to raise a level of awareness because it's not just your own property to be aware of but also neighbors' homes and regional fuel issues."

Steve Wallace, an Academy forestry technician, has worked with Strohm since she arrived at the Academy.

"She is passionate about her work, and is very hard working and conscientious, with a heart for preserving, protecting and improving the Academy's natural environment," he said. "She is also committed to educating the Academy community about what we do and why we do it."