By Laurie Laker ’12
Colorado College student Harrison Raine ’19 has been named a member of the 51st Class of Thomas J. Watson Fellows. His research and travel project — “The Ecological and Societal Balance of Wildfires” — will take him to Canada, Greece, South Africa, Australia, and Chile over the course of a year.
“My project has its roots in my time in Patagonia with an Ecology class,” Raine explains.
“During that class, we studied the concept of fire ecology, which opened my eyes to how different countries deal with similar threats.”
“One major difference, in terms of how fires are dealt with here in the U.S. versus in Patagonia, is that here, suppression of a fire often causes delays in recovery and an eventual increase in fires. In Patagonia, putting them out helps maintain the ecosystems that are already there, which is more effective at preventing future fires.”
This spark of information helped Raine create his own fire ecology focus within his Organismal Biology and Ecology major, which he also takes into his Watson Fellowship beginning this summer.
“It’s daunting, but exciting,” he says. “There’s no focus other than the work and yourself. You’re required to present at the Watson conference at the end of the year, but otherwise it’s a year of self-discovery.”
The plan for Raine’s Watson Fellowship is to travel seasonally, “to go to places during their peak fire seasons,” he says. Canada, Greece, South Africa, Australia, and Chile form the touchstone countries in Raine’s upcoming year. Each country has different experiences and approaches in dealing with wildfires as an ecological as well as social and cultural issue.
Raine’s interest in fire ecology and fire management has its roots in his summers spent as a wildland firefighter all over the Western U.S.
“My parents told me to go out and get a summer job, so I became a wildland firefighter. I didn’t realize how much work it would be, but it’s been awesome,” he says.
His time at CC has been impactful in his progress as a researcher, too.
“The Block Plan makes having my own focus so much easier, particularly within my major and my Environmental Studies minor,” he explains. “My Watson wouldn’t have happened without the support of my professors — Jim Ebersole, Brian Linkhart, Shane Heschel, and Jean Lee have all been instrumental in supporting my focus and my application.”
“Field study has also been a huge part of my experience here. The local fires that the Colorado Springs region has experienced — the Waldo Canyon, the Hayman Fire — we’ve been up to those locations to see how things are recovering, what restoration efforts are taking place.”
Looking beyond his Watson, Raine is optimistic that he’ll stay involved in fire ecology and land management.
“I can’t seem to get away from that focus,” he says. “I really want to involve myself more in the interplay between humans and the environment, so working at places like NOAA, the EPA, or the Forest Service all really appeal to me.”