- Author: Robert Sanders
Reposted from UC Berkeley News
An unprecedented 40-year experiment in a 40,000-acre valley of Yosemite National Park strongly supports the idea that managing fire, rather than suppressing it, makes wilderness areas more resilient to fire, with the added benefit of increased water availability and resistance to drought.
After a three-year, on-the-ground assessment of the park's Illilouette Creek basin, UC Berkeley researchers concluded that a strategy dating to 1973 of managing wildfires with minimal suppression and almost no preemptive, so-called prescribed burns has created a landscape more resistant to catastrophic fire, with more diverse vegetation and forest structure and increased water storage, mostly in the form of meadows in areas cleared by fires.
“When fire is not suppressed, you get all these benefits: increased stream flow, increased downstream water availability, increased soil moisture, which improves habitat for the plants within the watershed. And it increases the drought resistance of the remaining trees and also increases the fire resilience because you have created these natural firebreaks,” said Gabrielle Boisramé, a graduate student in UC Berkeley's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and first author of the study.
Boisramé and co-author Sally Thompson, a UC Berkeley ecohydrologist and assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, found that even in the drought years covered by the study, the basin retained more water than similar areas outside the park. That translated into more runoff into the Upper Merced River, which flows through Yosemite Valley, at a time when other rivers in the surrounding areas without a restored fire regime showed the same or decreased flow.
“We know that forests are deep-rooted and that they have a large leaf area, which means they are both thirsty and able to get to water resources,” Thompson said. “So if fire removes 20 percent of that demand from the landscape, that frees up some of the water to do different things, from recharging groundwater resources to supporting different kinds of vegetation, and it could start to move into the surface water supplies as stream flow.”
The study is published in the current issue of the journal Ecosystems.
If the results are confirmed from other studies, including the UC Berkeley team's new project analyzing the Sugarloaf Creek Basin in Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks, they could alter the way the federal government as well as water districts deal with fire, benefiting not only the forest environment but potentially also agriculture and cities because of more runoff into streams and reservoirs.
“I think it has the potential to change the conversation about wildfire management,” said co-author Scott Stephens, a fire expert and UC Berkeley professor of environmental science, policy and management who has studied the Illilouette basin since 2002.
This “wildfire management” strategy is counter to the federal government's 110-year-old Smokey Bear policy, which is followed throughout the West and emphasizes suppressing fires wherever they occur for fear they will get out of control. With persistent drought and a warming climate, the U.S. Forest Service budget is increasingly going to firefighting. On most federal land, only forest thinning and human-initiated prescribed burns are allowed as a way to manage the trees and underbrush.
Stephens noted, however, that these agencies have recognized the folly of total suppression — thanks in part to his own studies throughout the Sierra Nevada over several decades — and current draft wildland management policies for three of the state's national forests allow active wildfire management in up to 60 percent of the forests.
The value of forest clearings
Wildfire management, as opposed to suppression, comes with major changes in the way the forest looks, Stephens and Thompson said. Unlike the dense stands of pine and fir most people associate with Yosemite and similar mid-elevation Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountain forests, the Illilouette Creek basin has thinner forests and more clearings with dead trees.
“There is much more dramatic structural change in this forest than most people would probably feel comfortable with,” he said. “You are talking about low-density forests and gaps of 4 or 5 acres, up to maybe 100 acres. These are the result of major fires about every decade or so, large enough to cause tree scarring and affecting as much as one-quarter of the basin.”
These fire-caused clearings, however, act as natural fire breaks and make the area resistant to catastrophic fires such as the 2013 Rim Fire in the western part of the park, which burned 250,000 acres and left patches up to 20,000 acres in which not a single conifer tree survived. These areas could take a century to recover, Stephens said.
“In the Illilouette basin we lost about 20 percent of the forest cover, but there was a 200 percent increase in wetland vegetation: meadows starting to reemerge from forests that have probably encroached on historical locations,” Thompson said. “That sets us up to think that this new regime should be leakier as far as water goes — leaky in the way that suits us as a society.”
Even if these wildfire management techniques don't produce more runoff, Thompson added, “I think it is a fabulous result in terms of forest management if you end up with a healthier forest with some better intact aquatic habitat, even if you don't see a drop of water further downstream. It is still the right thing to do from an ecological point of view.
“Bottom line, this strategy might be a triple win-win-win for water, forest structure and fire risk,” she said.
The ‘jewel' of Yosemite National Park
The findings are the culmination of a 14-year study led by Stephens and his UC Berkeley colleagues to learn how monitoring natural, lightning-caused fires with a bias toward letting them burn affects the landscape, the vegetation and the groundwater. Only four areas in the western U.S., including two in California — the Illilouette Creek basin and the Sugarloaf Creek basin — have allowed lightning fires to burn in large areas for decades.
Most studies of different ways to manage wildland fires have been limited to a few hundred acres, and it's hard to extrapolate from such limited experiments to an entire forest. Luckily, Yosemite National Park started its experiment in 1973 — spurred by a 1963 report authored by the late UC Berkeley forester Starker Leopold — to let nature take its course in the Illilouette Creek watershed, stepping in only when fires in the basin threatened to get out of control or sent too much smoke into Yosemite Valley two miles to the northwest.
“This is the first study that looks at fire regime restoration on a watershed scale with empirical data,” he said. “Others do smaller areas or modeling, but this is 40,000 acres — a big place — over many years.”
One reason the basin was chosen was that it was surrounded by granite walls, which naturally prevented fires from spreading outside the basin. It had not been burned by the indigenous tribes of the region, which often set fires to increase acorn production, and had no history of prescribed burns. In fact, it saw only natural, lightning-caused fires except for an interval of nearly a century — 1875 to 1972 — when the park suppressed all fires.
While Stephens and his many students documented the changes in fire over the past 400 years, Boisramé and Thompson analyzed aerial photos to document vegetation change. Then, with the help of installed sensors and more than 3,000 soil moisture measurements throughout the basin, the team was able to estimate the amount of water in the landscape today versus in the past. They found similar or marginally drier conditions where forests had been replaced with shrubs, but these were balanced by much wetter conditions in small areas where meadows expanded.
They observed more snow reaching the ground because of the clearings, and more snow remaining during the spring, delaying runoff. And in recent drought years, when surrounding basins saw more trees die, there was almost no tree mortality in the Illilouette basin.
“In order to really understand whether this approach should be part of our management toolkit, I would recommend that we give it a crack in a few other places,” Thompson said. “This appears to be a promising management strategy without significant harm and with several very strongly quantifiable benefits and several very suggestive outcomes.”
Boisramé, who spent the past four summers sampling and camping in the Illilouette Creek basin, emphasized that this is not a strategy that would work everywhere. But in wilderness areas where wildfire management is being considered because of its safety benefits — to reduce underbrush and eliminate fuel for out-of-control and catastrophic fires that risk lives and property — the ecological and hydrological benefits are a big bonus. Areas with similar elevation and climatic conditions to the Illilouette basin, and thus perhaps suitable for managed wildfire, comprise about 18 percent of the Sierra Nevada, though the strategy may work at lower elevations as well.
“The whole ecosystem will be better off if we let the natural fire process back in,” she said.
The research was supported by a grant from the federal Joint Fire Science Program.
- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
Workshop aims to spark women's ambition to become leaders in fire management
Shortly after her son was born, Jeanne Pincha-Tulley was promoted to fire chief of a national forest. For the first six months, she brought the baby to work.
“Most of my colleagues were men between 40 and 50. I was 31,” recalled Pincha-Tulley, who was the first woman to achieve the rank of U.S. Forest Service fire chief in California. “My second son was 6 weeks old and nursing. They had no idea what to do. They absolutely freaked out.”
While great efforts are being made to recruit women into fire management, women hold only 10 percent of wildland fire positions and 7 percent of leadership roles. A new training focuses on grooming women to lead in fire management.
To encourage to women build stronger networks and pursue leadership roles in fire management, Pincha-Tulley, who retired in 2015 after 36 years with the U.S. Forest Service, will be speaking from experience on gender roles at the Women-in-Fire Prescribed Fire Training Exchange (WTREX) in Northern California. She will also serve as deputy incident commander for the event.
WHO: Participants from 12 states and four countries, including 38 women and six men, who work for federal and state agencies, non-governmental organizations, tribes and universities. Organizers include Pincha-Tulley, Lenya Quinn-Davidson, UC Cooperative Extension wildland fire advisor and director of the Northern California Prescribed Fire Council; and Amanda Stamper, The Nature Conservancy fire management officer in Oregon, among others. Guest speakers include Sarah McCaffrey, USDA Forest Service research social scientist; Johnny Stowe, forester/biologist/yoga teacher/fire manager of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources; Gwen Sanchez, deputy fire chief for the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, and many more.
WHAT: WTREX participants will serve in qualified and trainee firefighting positions to implement prescribed burns throughout the region. They will complete pre- and post-fire monitoring, train with equipment, practice fireline leadership skills and learn about local fire ecology and fire management.
WHERE: The training will take place in Trinity and Shasta counties. Sites include open prairies, oak woodlands, mixed-conifer forests and chaparral. Field trips will be made to areas burned in recent wildfires and to prescribed fire and fuels treatment project sites.
WHEN: Oct. 19-28, beginning in Hayfork, ending in Redding. Burning and other outdoor activities will depend on the weather.
DETAILS: The 12-day hands-on prescribed fire training, modeled after prescribed fire training events that take place across the country, will include beginners to seasoned professionals. The difference is that most of the participants are women.
“I'm excited for this event because it will transcend the usual TREX emphasis on cooperative burning and learning,” Lenya Quinn-Davidson, UC Cooperative Extension wildland fire advisor, who is part of the team organizing the event. “It will explicitly recognize and reinforce the importance of female perspective and leadership in fire management, and provide a supportive environment for women and men to understand and elevate the need for diversity in fire management—not only in numbers, but also in approach.”
Based at the Tahoe National Forest, Pincha-Tulley oversaw 1.6 million acres, including fire suppression, prescribed fire and aviation operations.
As the only woman among the 17 national Incident Commanders, Pincha-Tulley looked for allies and mentors. In 2005, the year she was promoted to Type 1 Incident Commander, she led her team to Mississippi to assist in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. She was essentially invisible to the Air Force generals and Navy admirals until she put general stars on her uniform. A NASA director, a man, coached her, saying, “Are you going to let them take over the meeting? You're their peer, make yourself one.” He proceeded to mentor her, based on NASA's training for women in management.
“When you look for those people who can help, you begin to attract them,” Pincha-Tulley said. One of the primary goals of the Women-in-Fire Prescribed Fire Training Exchange is to connect women who work in fire, providing them with new networking and mentoring opportunities.
WTREX is co-hosted by eight primary partners as well as additional collaborators. These include the Northern California Prescribed Fire Council, the Fire Learning Network, the Cultural Fire Management Council, the Watershed Research and Training Center, the Bureau of Land Management, the USDA Forest Service, the California Fire Science Consortium, University of California Cooperative Extension, and other collaborators.
WTREX is supported by Promoting Ecosystem Resiliency through Collaboration: Landscapes, Learning and Restoration, a cooperative agreement between The Nature Conservancy, USDA Forest Service and agencies of the Department of the Interior.
- Author: Lenya Quinn-Davidson
Reposted from the UCANR Green Blog
On Monday, Oct. 17, participants will gather in northwestern California for the first-ever Women-in-Fire Prescribed Fire Training Exchange (WTREX). The 12-day hands-on prescribed fire training, modeled after similar TREX events that take place across the country, will include participants with a full range of fire qualifications—from beginners to seasoned professionals—and from a diversity of backgrounds, including federal and state agencies, non-governmental organizations, tribes, universities, and more.
Participants are traveling from 12 different states and four countries, and will include 38 women and six men. This event will transcend the usual TREX emphasis on cooperative burning and learning; it will explicitly recognize and reinforce the importance of female perspective and leadership in fire management, and provide a supportive environment for women and men to understand and elevate the need for diversity in fire management—not only in numbers, but also in approach.
WTREX participants will serve in qualified and trainee firefighting positions to implement prescribed burns throughout the region. They will complete pre- and post-fire monitoring, train with equipment, practice fireline leadership skills, and learn about local fire ecology and fire management. The training will take place in diverse forest and rangeland ecosystems across northwestern California, including open prairies, oak woodlands, mixed-conifer forests, and chaparral, and include field trips to areas burned in recent wildfires and to prescribed fire and fuels treatment project sites. It will also feature presentations by local scientists and land managers, and women who are leaders in various aspects of fire management.
In recent years, there has been an increased effort to recruit women into fire, yet women still constitute a relatively small proportion of the workforce, filling only 10 percent of wildland fire positions and 7 in 100 leadership roles. Women often find the dominant fire management system to be dismissive of female perspectives and strengths, even as its increasing complexity requires fresh approaches and insights. The WTREX invites both women and men to explore the growing role of women in fire management, while conducting prescribed fire operations designed to advance their formal qualifications in wildland fire management and enhance their understanding of fire ecology and effects, communications and outreach, prescribed fire policy and planning, and more.
For WTREX updates, follow the hashtag #wtrex2016 on Twitter or the Facebook page of the Northern California Prescribed Fire Council. For more information on the council, visit www.norcalrxfirecouncil.org or contact Lenya Quinn-Davidson, UC Cooperative Extension advisor and fire council director, at email@example.com.
This training is supported by Promoting Ecosystem Resiliency through Collaboration: Landscapes, Learning and Restoration, a cooperative agreement between The Nature Conservancy, USDA Forest Service and agencies of the Department of the Interior. For more information, contact Lynn Decker at firstname.lastname@example.org or (801) 320-0524.
- Author: Brook Gamble
Reprinted from the UCANR Green Blog
“Feeling welcome in nature is essential to caring and wanting to learn more.” José González(Latino Outdoors), Plenary speaker at the UC California Naturalist conference
Listening to Tom Ramos and his family who are Yuhaviatam, people of the pines, welcome all the naturalists to their land and share the sacred big horn sheep song was a wonderful way to honor the fact that native people are still here (Mütu č iip qac) and have a rich traditional ecological knowledge to share. This and all of the shared experiences that followed at the 2016 California Naturalist Conference reveal the enthusiasm this growing community has for nature and their dedication to paying attention to natural wonders. Author and artist John Muir Laws affirms that nature can be fascinating wherever you are. With a pine cone in hand we all noticed, wondered, and discussed what the cone reminded us of - "a cobra ready to strike" or "beaver tails going into a hole."
Meeting in the San Bernardino Mountains surrounded by conifers and endemic plants and just a stone's throw from the Southern California urban core, California Naturalists and world-class experts gathered to learn from one another. Naturalists are leading efforts to strengthen local community stewardship efforts and engaging the public in citizen science. The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, among others, is extending the power of citizen science for cataloging local biodiversity and the LA Neighborhood Land Trust is working to provide green space to those who are living without access to nature. The power that art has to connect with nature was illustrated by Elkpen's poignant signage reminding Angelenos that grizzlies once roamed where they now live and black pheobes can still be found locally. All of these actions on the ground help build resilient communities and landscapes in the face of the global change scenarios that were presented.
“UC California Naturalist is creating a vibrant, thriving, inclusive environmental movement for the 21st century.” Jon Christensen (UCLA), Plenary speaker at the UC California Naturalist conference
Thanks to conference sponsors, trainers, speakers, instructors, and our organizing committee, California Naturalists from all walks of life had a chance to meet one another, become familiar with new directions in environmental science, conservation, and communication, and share their enthusiasm for nature. We hosted over 275 participants and provided 60 scholarships to attending California Naturalists. Several attendees and organizations received well-deserved awards ranging from the individual with the most volunteer hours in 2015 (Melinda Frost-Hurzel from Sierra Streams Institute, 760) to the most iNaturalist observations by a California Naturalist partner project (Pasadena City College, 13,383), and the partner with the most trained California Naturalists (UCSC Arboretum, 145) with an important shout out to everyone for becoming a California Naturalist and working to strengthen our network.
The information sharing was powerful but perhaps the most important outcome was the opportunity for kindred spirits to share the weekend, forge new and lasting relationships, and learn how we can best set future collaborations in motion. The value of providing access to the California Naturalist program and working to make everyone feel welcome really paid off in the interactions we had star gazing, sharing at the poster session, and on the field trips.
The California Naturalist community of practice shares a passion for learning together and providing service to nature and environmental science. The 2016 conference showed that working together, we can include participation from Californians of all ages and backgrounds to foster discovery, action, and stewardship on behalf of nature.
- Author: Pam Kan-Rice
Reprinted from UCANR news
In August, the Clayton Fire burned nearly 4,000 acres and 198 homes and businesses in Lake County. In 2015, the Valley, Rocky and Jerusalem fires together burned 170,623 acres and destroyed 2,078 structures. But the devastating Lake County wildfires haven't put a damper on fishing at Clear Lake, which reels in roughly $1 million to the community annually, according to a report from UC Cooperative Extension.
“The lake's economic attraction has not been negatively impacted by the fires,” said Greg Giusti, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Lake County and author of the study. “The fish are fine and the anglers keep coming.”
Giusti's report outlines the economic value of fishing on Clear Lake, highlighting the importance of the outdoor pastime to the local economy.
Bass, crappie, catfish and bluegill thrive in Clear Lake's warm water, with its rich plant life and abundant food supply.
“People come from all over the country to fish Clear Lake,” said Giusti, who studies fisheries and freshwater ecology.
Teeming with fish, Clear Lake's reputation attracts serious anglers. Bass Master Magazine (July/August 2016) rated Clear Lake third out of the top 100 bass fishing lakes in the country and first among the nine western states.
More data need to estimate true economic value of fishing
Based on a conservative estimate of the number of anglers and multiplying by $58.16, (the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's estimate of an angler's average daily fishing-related expenditure), Giusti concluded Clear Lake fishing is a $1 million enterprise. He considers the true value of fishing on Clear Lake to be much higher because limited data was available to understand the full economic value.
To estimate the number of anglers, Giusti doubled the number of quagga mussel stickers sold and added the number of people registered for Clear Lake fishing tournaments. Before entering the lake, boats must pass the county's monthly quagga mussel inspection for the invasive species and receive the sticker. Giusti assumed an average of two anglers per boat, for a total of 10,156 spending $590,673 annually. Since 6,498 Lake County residents have fishing licenses, he estimated that they spend at least $377,923.68 on fishing annually.
He thinks local businesses can capitalize on fishing to bring even more revenue into the community by enticing anglers and their families to engage in other activities during their visit.
“Because access to the lake is open and free, we don't know how often anglers return to Clear Lake and for how long they stay,” Giusti said. “While they're here, folks are spending money on food, gas, tackle and maybe lodging. If they bring their families, Dad may be fishing while Mom and the kids might be at the movies.”
California Department of Fish and Wildlife collects about $57 million in fishing license sales each year. Giusti found that more than 150,000 licenses were sold in 2014 to anglers in Lake County and neighboring Mendocino, Sonoma, Colusa and Sacramento counties, which are close enough to make a day trip to Clear Lake.
Opportunities to catch more angler dollars
Although local businesses typically gear up for summer tourists, Giusti sees marketing opportunities around fishing during the spring and fall, as the primary angling months occur before and after summer.
“Right now all the focus is on summer tourism and wine, while the most active visitor months are not recognized,” Giusti said. “Spring months are the most popular boating months. Businesses should be hanging banners downtown, putting posters in the windows welcoming anglers with specials for meals, promotional events highlighting fishing, and even sponsored fishing tournaments.”
Other California communities could also benefit by capitalizing on fishing, in Giusti's opinion.
“Freshwater fishing in California represents a $1.4 billion industry, generating 22,000 jobs and providing more than $920 million in salaries and wages,” said Giusti. “California ranks fifth in the nation based on the value of fishing economics.”
The American Sportfishing Association estimates that more than 33 million people enjoy fishing in America, and spend an average of $1,441 per year on fishing.
To download the full report, “Understanding the economic value of angling on Clear Lake – A profile of a famous lake,” visit http://ucanr.edu/sites/ClearLakeAquaticWebsite.