Fire Ecology Symposium Connects FAC Community through Dialogue

Author: Nancy Bailey, Mid-Klamath Watershed Council

 KFES field tourEvery three years, Orleans, CA, a small mountain town in the heart of one of the most complex fire environments in the country, hosts a symposium on fire ecology. Eighty-one people participated in this year’s Klamath Fire Ecology Symposium (KFES) including scientists, land managers, area residents, tribes and members of the conservation community. Together they worked on ways to restore historical fire regimes in the Klamath Mountains in a manner that protects life and property, improves forest health, and enhances resources. The symposium, supported by the Fire Learning Network, was designed to facilitate constructive dialogue on emerging themes in fire ecology and management in the Klamath Mountains and beyond.

The 2014 symposium consisted of two and a half days of presentations and group discussions, and a half-day tour of the 2013 Orleans Fire that burned through the town of Orleans behind the conference venue, as well as prescribed burns conducted by the 2013 Northern CA Prescribed Fire Council Training Exchange (TREX) and the USDA Forest Service.

The social, cultural and ecological realities of fire were discussed and grounded in current research. Throughout the event presenters helped participants forge a deeper sense of the past, present and future of fire in the region. Some of the important discussion highlights from the symposium include:

  • Fire exclusion has occurred simultaneously with changing climate (the past 100 years have been the wettest in many centuries) and have produced fuel and vegetation conditions never seen before.
  • The last time so little fire has been present in this region was when glaciers were retreating at the end of the last Ice Age.
  • Wildfires are getting larger and more difficult to manage.
  • “Fire Severity” has been defined various ways in research, leading to confusion on the topic. “Fire Severity” measures relative change, whereas “Fire Intensity” is an exact measure of the amount of energy released during a fire event. Every fire has some degree of mixed severity depending on the scale.
  • The paradigm is shifting in wildland fire management, especially concerning community collaboration. Community liaisons can be a critical asset during a wildfire. Local knowledge is being listened to.  Giant steps are being made in regard to collaborative landscape planning.
  • Traditional Fire Knowledge has a lot to offer fire managers, especially when a fire is being managed for multiple resource benefits. Fire managers are listening more carefully to tribal practitioners and resource specialists; however, there is still room for improvement. Fire suppression has had significant impacts to the Karuk Tribe’s culture and ceremonies, including their ability to gather the food, fiber and medicine resources that require specific fire cycles at different places on the landscape.
  • Post-fire salvage logging decisions involve a complex balance between habitat and hazard. Issues brought up by participants included road building, erosion, invasive species and economics. One of the stops on the field tour was to a property that burned during the 2013 Orleans Fire last July. The landowner requested the group come and offer specific advice regarding salvage logging in the burned area. His decisions will be better informed based on the field tour and feedback participants provided. Agreements on the scope and scale of salvage logging among diverse stakeholders are needed.
  • Recent fire footprints (<10 years old) can, and should, be used to manage future fires. They can be allowed to burn as part of maintenance and to help bring about the long term goal of restoring historical fire regimes, or given climate change, more resilient fire regimes.
  • Science must inform policy. Policy must be flexible enough to incorporate adaptive management.

Local restoration organizations, conservationists and community members all gained perspective and offered insights regarding wildfire management, post-fire management strategies and fire resilient communities through this symposium. The KFES helped participants make important connections and facilitated regional networking. To learn more, visit the Mid-Klamath Watershed Council’s website where you can also access the KFES presentations: http://mkwc.org/programs/fire-fuels/klamath-fire-ecology-symposium/

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