The National Fire and Fire Surrogate (FFS) study is described, from its conceptual stage in early 1996 to the completion of its short-term phase in May 2006. Comprising 12 sites, the FFS study is a comprehensive multidisciplinary experiment designed to evaluate the economics and ecological consequences of alternative fuel reduction treatments in seasonally dry forests of the United States. The FFS study uses a common experimental design across the 12-site network, with each site consisting of a fully replicated experiment that compares four treatments: an unmanipulated control, prescribed fire, mechanical treatments, and mechanical + fire. We measured operational costs and variables within several components of the ecosystem, including vegetation, the fuel bed, soils, bark beetles, tree diseases, and wildlife in the same 10-ha experimental units. This design allowed us to assemble a fairly complete picture of ecosystem response to treatment at the site scale, and to compare treatment response across sites representing a wide variety of conditions. We offer the FFS study as a model for conducting a complex multidisciplinary management experiment focused on natural resource issues. We then discuss why we believe it was successful and how it could be improved. We discuss seven key features that we believe must be considered to conduct a successful multidisciplinary experiment: funding, design, partnerships, organization, standardization, data management, and outreach. Although experiments such as the FFS study are difficult to execute, they may be our best hope for answering some of our more pressing questions in the field of natural resource management.