Photo Credit: TREX participants burning on a private ranch near Hayfork, CA in 2013. Just a few weeks ago, wildfires burned right up to this TREX treatment area, and firefighters were able to hold the line.
This coming October, my colleagues and I will be hosting a prescribed fire training exchange here in northwestern California. This will be our third annual event, and we have a solid roster that includes a full spectrum of experienced fire practitioners. We will be burning in areas that have been severely impacted by this season’s wildfires, including my hometown of Hayfork, where the Fork Complex threatened neighborhoods and other important community infrastructure only weeks ago (see Michelle Medley-Daniel’s blog from August 25). The training exchange will bring prescribed fire crews and resources to places that sorely need them.
To me, the connection is so clear for our region: the more fire prone the community, the more we should be using prescribed fire. During a fire season like this one, I only feel more inspired and encouraged to host these trainings and increase the area treated with prescribed fire. But I’ve been amazed at how many people have asked me if we’re going to cancel the training, and I’ve even had a few fire managers say they might not burn at all this fall because of the wildfire activity this summer.
Now don’t get me wrong—I recognize the severe smoke impacts caused by these wildfires, and I know that we need to make every effort to protect communities from further emissions. But I wonder if there is a larger issue at play here, one that may be rooted in regional culture and history. Would managers in the Southeast cancel prescribed burns after a busy wildfire season, or would they feel pressure to do more burning? Are impediments to prescribed fire geographically unique or are they widely shared?
Along these lines, there is a growing body of literature that looks at impediments to prescribed fire in various parts of the country. These studies focus on social, political, economic and operational factors, and collectively explore both manager and public perspectives. These studies help us understand the issues we face in our burning on a regional level, but they should also motivate us to borrow successes and share strategies at a broader scale. Check out the links below for some research highlights.
- Prescribed fire in North American forests and woodlands: history, current practice, and challenges
- 2012 National Prescribed Fire Use Survey Report
- Research perspectives on the public and fire management: a synthesis of current social science on eight essential questions
- Prescribed Burning Perceptions Among Private Landowners: An Annotated Bibliography of Relevant Literature
- Impediments to prescribed fire across agency, landscape and manager: An example from northern California
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