Featured Presenters

Arthur “Butch” Blazer
President, Mescalero Apache Tribe

Arthur “Butch” Blazer currently serves as President of the Mescalero Apache Tribe located in south central New Mexico. Butch was raised on the beautiful one-half million acre Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation and is recognized nationally as a leader in Indian Country. President Blazer has extensive experience in working with Federal, Tribal, and State entities, as well as non-profit organizations and has held various executive management and leaderships positions over his 32 years as a public servant.

In 2011, President Obama appointed Butch to serve as Deputy Under Secretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and the Environment within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) where he provided oversight and direction to the U.S. Forest Service until May 2016.

Butch served as the first ever Native American State Forester, appointed by former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson for 8 years and led the development of a successful Healthy Forest and Watershed Health Plan for the State of New Mexico. He brought a tribal perspective to the National Association of State Foresters and assured that tribal issues and concerns were addressed at the national level.

Butch also served as Natural Resources Manager for the Mescalero Apache Tribe, having oversite of important reservation natural resources and was elected and served two consecutive terms on the Mescalero Apache Tribal Council in the late 1990’s.

On June 28, 2016, Butch received one of the greatest honors of his career. He was presented with the Presidents Lifetime Achievement Award for Volunteerism, signed by President Barack Obama.

Butch graduated from New Mexico State University (’75) with a BS Degree in Range Science.

Robert H. Ziel
Fire Analyst, Alaska Fire Science Consortium, University of Alaska Fairbanks

Growing up in the eastern forests of the United States, first in the Appalachians of southeastern Kentucky and then on the drift plains of southern Michigan, Zeke has been fortunate for a career that allowed him to observe and analyze the physical, biological, and human processes that have molded wildland landscapes. A 1975 graduate in Forestry from the University of Michigan, he spent nearly 37 years working in Michigan for the Michigan DNR, as a consulting forester, and as the program manager for the Lake States Fire Science Consortium. First cruising timber, mapping forest cover, and planning forest practices. Then, following weather and managing fire here in the Lake States. And finally, encouraging the use of science and technology in decisions. This fostered opportunities to learn and practice fire assessment and analysis throughout the country as a Fire Behavior Analyst (FBAN) and Long Term Analyst (LTAN) for national incident management teams. These skills led Zeke to Fairbanks, Alaska in 2013, serving initially as the Fuels and Fire Analyst for Predictive Services at the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center for 4 years and now as the Fire Analyst for the Alaska Fire Science Consortium.

Shawna Legarza PsyD
Director, Fire and Aviation Management, USDA Forest Service

Shawna was raised on a cattle ranch in Northern Nevada and entered the firefighting profession as an engine crewmember for the Bureau of Land Management. She has 30 years’ experience in fire and aviation management and has held numerous leadership positions in a wide variety of regions for both the Bureau of Land Management and the USDA Forest Service. These positions include Hotshot Superintendent, District Fire Management Officer, and Forest Fire Management Officer. In addition to her fire experience, she worked at the World Trade Center 9/11 recovery efforts, Hurricane Rita and the Greensburg Tornado, with significant contribution to agency leadership in fire management. Shawna is qualified as a Type 2 Incident Commander, Prescribed Fire Burn Boss, and Operations Section Chief. Shawna has a Doctorate in Psychology, a Master of Science in Kinesiology and a Bachelor’s of Science in Exercise Physiology. Shawna is a graduate of the National Wildland Fire Apprentice Program Academy 4.

Fantina Tedim
Assistant professor at the Department of Geography, Faculty of Arts, University of Porto, Portugal
University Fellow at Charles Darwin University, Australia

Fantina Tedim has a PhD in Human Geography at the University of Porto. Her main area of interest and expertise is disaster risk reduction, vulnerability and resilience assessment. Although her research covers different hazards, her main interest is the social dimension of wildfires, and the prevention of extreme wildfire events. Currently, she is the lead of two international projects: FIREXTR-Prevent and prepare the society for extreme fire events (2016-2019) and AVODIS – Understanding and building on the social context of rural Portugal to prevent wildfire disasters (2019-2021). In the scope of FIREXTR project it was proposed a definition of Extreme Wildfire Events (EWE), a classification of wildfires based on fire behavior parameters, and the innovative concept of Fire Smart Territories.

Since 2007, she coordinated 2 international projects, participated in 3 European projects, edited 6 books, published 27 book chapters, 21 papers, and participated in 52 conferences. She is Associate Editor of the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction.

This event will be livestreamed, please check back for the link.

Jeremy Russell-Smith
Jeremy Russell-Smith has more than 35 years’ experience researching savanna fire ecology, carbon market, ecosystem services, and associated livelihood opportunities for land managers and Indigenous (Aboriginal) communities in northern Australia and neighbouring countries.

Over the past 20 years Jeremy has been involved with the development of savanna burning greenhouse gas emissions abatement and carbon sequestration methods and projects in northern Australia, and most recently in southern Africa. From 2014 he has been the lead researcher for a suite of projects undertaken under the ‘Northern Hub’ of the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre focused on ‘Building capacity in north Australian remote communities’. A key output of that recent work is a book recently published by Taylor and Francis, Sustainable land sector development in northern Australia: Indigenous rights, aspirations, and cultural responsibilities.

Jeremy gained a PhD in 1986 from the Australian National University, Canberra, and holds the position of Professor of Fire Ecology at Charles Darwin University, Darwin.

This event will be livestreamed, please check back for the link.

What happens when women thrive – a life and a career in fire

Across the globe there are low numbers of women working and participating in fire. There are many reasons why that is the case – some historical, some cultural, some political. Despite widespread commitment in recent years to improve diversity and inclusion, many organizations are slow to change their ways of doing business. As a result, they miss out on the benefits that flow from having a more representative workplace – more innovation, reduced turnover, a wider access to talent, and more.

This panel discussion will be shared live between Albuquerque and Sydney and will feature prominent women from across the fire communities in the United States and Australia, at various stages of their careers, and with different stories to tell of success, failure, hope and ambition. The session will invite the audience to share their own stories of gender diversity and inclusion on what has helped or hindered their own careers, and what needs to be done to achieve real change.

This session will be moderated by Dr Tamara Wall from the Desert Research institute, Reno, Nevada, and Tami Parkinson, from the US Forest Service at the US conference, plus a moderator in Australia (TBC).

The IAWF Diversity and Inclusion Committee will gather the information from this session to create a resource kit to support organizations on diversity and inclusion.


Annie Benoit, NWCG Training Specialist

Darcy McDaniel, State Fire Planner, Bureau of Land Management

Maria Sharpe, RPF MSc, Fire Science and Information Manager, Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre

Michelle Ryerson

Annie Benoit
NWCG Training Specialist

Annie started her career as a seasonal employee mapping forest trails in 2001. Working as part of the militia fire crew that summer, Annie realized her heart was with wildland fire. Annie has worked in various positions on wildland fire crews in Utah for both the BLM and USFS as a seasonal and permanent employee. She moved to Idaho in 2010 to work for the Boise National Forest in the prescribed fire and fuels program. Her career has fostered a love of prescribed fire as a tool to implement positive changes on the landscape.

Annie has served as a cadre member for several training courses at the local and regional levels. She’s also had the opportunity to detail with the Wildland Fire Management Research, Development, and Application program assisting with the development of IFTDSS and fuels treatment effectiveness, national webinars and training, in addition to providing decision support for the user community. Annie has participated with the NWCG Fire Environment Committee working with the Fire Behavior Subcommittee and Fire Weather Subcommittee and now most recently is the training liaison to these working committees.

She is a qualified Prescribed Fire Burn Boss Type 2 and is working toward her Long Term Fire Analyst qualification. Annie holds a B.S. in Environmental Studies from Utah State University and an M.S. in Forest Sciences from Colorado State University.

Annie is now a USFS Training Specialist for the National Wildfire Coordinating Group, located at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. She lives in Boise with her wildland firefighter husband and two young children and tries to spend as much time outside having fun with them as she can.

Darcy McDaniel
State Fire Planner, Bureau of Land Management

Darcy is developing interagency collaborative projects, strategic plans, risk assessments, geospatial products, and budget and complexity analyses. Previously, she was a Zone Fire Planner at the Winnemucca and Battle Mountain Districts in Nevada. While in Nevada, she completed a Master of Natural Resources degree in Fire Ecology and Management from the University of Idaho. Darcy began her fire career in 2001 on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest and had spent much of her career working on Forest Service hotshot crews. After eleven years in hotshots, she transitioned into fire planning in 2016. In her spare time, she enjoys running, hiking, working out, and exploring new areas. Darcy is also the 4th generation of a family-owned cattle ranch in Washington and enjoys helping her parents on their ranch.

Maria Sharpe, RPF MSc
Fire Science and Information Manager
Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre

Maria Sharpe is the Manager of Fire Science and Information with the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC). Born and raised in eastern Canada, Maria moved west in 2007 to begin her career in wildfire management with the Provincial Government of Alberta. Throughout the 11 years with the Government of Alberta, Maria held various wildfire and forest operations positions ranging from public relations officer, silviculture forester and eventually working towards a wildfire management specialist position focused on landscape-level issues and serving as the resident Fire Behaviour Analyst and Fire Growth Modeler for her forest area.

Maria holds a Diploma in Forest Technology, BSc in Forest Management and a MSc in Forest Biology and Management through the Canadian Partnership of Wildland Fire at the University of Alberta. She is the chair of the CIFFC Fire Science Committee and CIFFC IM/IT Committee and lead of the CIFFC Diversity and Inclusion portfolio. Maria also represents Canada’s interests globally on the International Association of Wildland Fire Diversity & Inclusion Committee.

Michelle Walker (formerly Ryerson)
Deputy State Director-Support Services, BLM Idaho State Office

Michelle has worked for the Bureau of Land Management for 32 years. She started as the Deputy State Director for Support Services at the Idaho State Office January of 2018. Prior to her current position, she held a position as Field Manager for the Owyhee Field Office/Boise District, Idaho for about three and half years. In 2014, shesServed as acting Field Manager for the Four Rivers Field Office/Boise District, Idaho. Michelle has over 24 years of on-the-ground fire program experience coupled with over 20 years of safety and occupational health experience. In 1987, Michelle began her career in the Grand Junction (Colorado) BLM District Office while completing her college education. Upon college graduation, she served in various range technician/wildland fire positions as well as the District’s Safety Officer until 1998. She was the Oregon/Washington BLM State Office Safety Manager from 1998-2000, and Safety and Health Program Manager for the BLM’s Fire & Aviation Directorate from October 2000 through 2014.