Camp Smokey, California State Fair Photo Credit: BIA, Soledad Holguin

Topic: Fuels treatment / Prescribed fire Resilience Traditional Ecological Knowledge Type: Tools / Resources

The 4 Rights Campaign: Prescribed Fire is Right 4 the Environment

Authors: Bill Tripp

The 4 Rights Campaign is being spearheaded by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Pacific Region. It revolves around prescribed fire being done at the Right Time, with the Right People, in the Right Place, as the Right Choice. It all started within the BIA Prevention Program in response to a few individuals recognizing that the meadows were filling in, what was once wet was now dry, and prescribed burning could help to reverse this trend. Prescribed fire enables a plethora of positive feedback loops, one of which is the mitigation of the negative consequences of unmanaged fire.

Little Red School House, California State Fair Photo Credit: BIA, Soledad Holguin

Little Red School House, California State Fair. Photo Credit: BIA, Soledad Holguin

The BIA has integrated this campaign as a teaching tool at the California State Fair. Camp Smokey and the Little Red School House are teaching about how Native Americans have used fire for generations and how traditional resource management ties into prescribed fire today. It is truly opening minds to the idea of prescribed fire again.

Tribes are also implementing these principles through partnership activities enacted under authorities such as the Tribal Forest Protection Act, Reserved Treaty Rights Lands Fund, Department of the Interior Resilient Landscapes Program and by other interagency/intergovernmental means. Prescribed fire and managed wildland fire are perhaps the two greatest tools we have to provide for balanced ecological function.

Right Time

There are many important temporal considerations for prescribed fire, including time of year, current and expected weather and time of day. All of these need to come together in the right combination to achieve a successful prescribed burn. For example, burning to promote spring greens as a traditional food source can be achieved by burning before green up in late winter/early spring in California black oak (Quercus kelloggii) woodland/savanna. Grasses and oak leaf litter can carry fire into the shade line, where the fire goes out. These winter burns not only provide fresh green grasses and forbs, which have food and fiber value for people and animals, but they can also reduce fuel loading adjacent to communities and help provide a secure place from which to manage wildfires in summer.

Right Place

Not only are fuels, topography and fuel breaks important considerations, but the benefits to be achieved are also an important place-based factor. It is important to know what the conditions are and what you want to accomplish. Effective fire management/fire use cultures are place-based and integrate the needs of healthy forests, grasslands, streams, plants, animals and people. People live in fire prone environments. Many of the areas that we now call the wildland-urban interface (WUI) are actually fire-dependent ecosystems.

Right People

Multigenerational burning is an important way to ensure that cultural practices and techniques persist. Family burning done with knowledgeable adults to provide the right supervision is a good practice. Involving local youth helps to instill a sense of place and responsibility in the future residential population of your area. The revitalization and perpetuation of localized Traditional Ecological Knowledge practice and belief systems will be vital to enabling humans to live safely with fire once again.

Prescribed burning in the conditions we face today can be quite complex. Qualifications that meet or exceed federal, tribal or state standards are needed to ensure the proper chain of command and supervisory span of control are met. There are many reasons for establishing a professional supervisory support structure to your burning practices. Liability, permitting, burn plan approval and smoke management are all factors that require a more formal structure, especially when performing in-season or cross-boundary burns. Prescribed burning in and adjacent to the WUI should be supported by federal, tribal, state and NGO land managers in coordination with place-based fire practitioners.

Right Choice

There are many reasons for prescribed/managed fire to be the right choice. Fire is an agent of renewal in fire-prone environments. Even smoke can be essential to survival for species like salmon or Pacific giant salamander, as it can cast shade and cool water temperatures during fire season. Wildlife need fire-scarred trees for future habitat just as much as they need the freshly sprouted foods that fire provides. People also benefit from the positive feedbacks of fire. Without fire, there would be no basket making in the Pacific region, and subsistence living in extremely rural food deserts would not be possible.

The 4 Rights campaign is an important communications and engagement tool that can be easily adapted and used in your local community. It provides good guidance on the basic factors needed to successfully conduct small-scale, family-based burning under appropriate conditions, or for large-scale professionally structured burning practices. Different scenarios can be developed for conveying these basic principles to children, adults, private citizens, land managers or any other fire practitioner. It can be scaled to an individual teaching one’s children how and when to start a fire in their wood stove, to the Type 1 Incident Commander overseeing burning operations across jurisdictional boundaries. The campaign is encouraging more people to get engaged in the proper use of fire across all lands to accomplish balanced social, economic and ecological objectives for generations to come.

Special thanks to Charles Jachens, Soledad Holguin and Jimmy Nanamkin of the Pacific Region BIA for developing the 4 Rights campaign.

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