- Author: Grace Dean
In the wake of California's increasing wildfire concerns, UC ANR has made a concerted push to expand their fire network by hiring more academic advisors like Barb Satink Wolfson. Satink Wolfson covers the central coast region of California, serving the communities of San Benito, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and Monterey Counties. This is her first fire-focused position in California- but is far from her first time working in fire science and communications. Prior to moving to the Central Coast in 2022, Satink Wolfson established a presence among Arizona and New Mexico communities through creative methods of science communications.
Past projects in Flagstaff, AZ were focused on helping researchers communicate their findings to the public and on the ground land managers. One unique effort saw researchers partner with a local art council on a climate and fire art exhibit, which was exhibited in Flagstaff and Tucson. Local artists conveyed difficult fire ecology and management concepts in a more approachable medium, positively shifting visitors' attitudes towards active management. Satink Wolfson feels that her current position as fire advisor is a natural progression to scale these creative outreach efforts.
Now, Satink Wolfson has found that the people she serves are fairly fire-savvy, most likely due to the past wildfires such as the 2020 Lightning Complex Fire. “There's definite awareness, and some very active FireWise communities,” Satink Wolfson says, pointing to the region's Fire Safe Councils as a prominent example that assists with FireWise establishment.
She has endeavored to build on that community interest by inviting people to be curious about fire and management. For example, through her local Prescribed Burn Association (PBA), she invited the public to observe the prescribed fire process, from morning briefing to ignitions. “People really liked seeing that process,” she recounts. She expands on demystifying science, “I strive to use common language, limit acronyms, spell everything out.” Making those choices has a positive impact on community engagement and empowerment. Another essential part of empowering the community is ensuring that all community members are included, which is why Satink Wolfson is also a strong supporter of including tribal perspectives and tribal members for these projects.
“It's a long road to environmental justice,” Satink Wolfson tells me. There are some steps in the right direction, she says, including her local PBA allocating a portion of their grant funds for tribal apprentices, aiding the local Amah Mutsun Land Trust's efforts to bring fire education back to their members. The Association for Fire Ecology (AFE) is an organization Satink Wolfson has been contributing to for some time now, and their biannual conference is one that she “tried for years to bring in a larger component for indigenous people,” she says. This year is the first to include a large number of events specifically designed to welcome and pay respect to indigenous culture and history. “It makes me feel good that we're finally getting there, and the right partners make all the difference,” Satink Wolfson notes, referring to a local indigenous leader who is leading the facilitation of indigenous events, topics, and culture at the conference.
Environmental justice is not the only issue Satink Wolfson sees in her region. A more tangible hurdle is money- there's simply not enough to go around. She says that “For middle income people in my area, finances are one of the hardest hurdles for defensible space and home hardening.” Fire safety projects are typically done on an individual level, leaving it up to each homeowner to come up with resources and funds on their own.
Satink Wolfson points out that this concern infuses not only her advisor goals for the region, but the content she presents to the public. She's cognizant that “not everyone can afford to do everything at once,” and instead approaches management talks from the perspective of: “What can get people the biggest bang for their buck?” Her recommendation is to prioritize management projects through this lens, sharing: “The way that I look at my house is- I want to make it as likely as possible that it can survive a fire without intervention.”
This is why Satink Wolfson wants to work her way towards neighborhood-level action. She thinks about the impact of having large-scale, coordinated efforts that lead to saving an entire neighborhood from a wildfire. While working with Homeowner's Associations is a possibility, she would prefer a more grassroots effort. Community-led programs are the way to go, she notes, “That's why the Fire Safe Councils can be so effective.” This is the positive, people-powered model she sees groups like the PBAs building upon: “I see the PBAs as returning fire to the people. Anyone can do the work, they just need to know how.”
- Author: Jamie Tuitele-Lewis, Resource Conservation District of Monterey County
- Author: Barb Satink Wolfson, UC ANR
The Monterey Bay area will host part of the first California Central Coast Prescribed Fire Training Exchange, or Cal-TREX.
Fire practitioners from across the state, greater North America and international locations (Spain, Honduras, Costa Rica, Ecuador) are gathering for a Prescribed Fire Training Exchange on June 3-10.
The training is hosted by the Central Coast Prescribed Burn Association, which empowers the public to build a culture of “good fire” and helps private landowners conduct prescribed burns in Monterey, San Benito and Santa Cruz counties.
Prescribed burns will be open for the public to observe on various days throughout the training, most likely June 4-9, depending on the weather. Please see the CCPBA webpage for updates on upcoming burns: http://calpba.org/centralcoastpba.
Prescribed Fire Training Exchanges (TREX) first came to Northern California in 2013, and have made a dynamic, positive cultural shift concerning prescribed fire, within both regional fire services and the general public. These “good fire” TREX events have drawn significant attention, especially in the context of more severe wildfire seasons.
After months of cross-organizational cooperative planning, participants in the weeklong training will be burning a mix of grassland, oak woodland and shrub vegetation types, and make a lasting, positive change concerning “good fire” on the Central Coast.
The TREX will provide experiential training opportunities to advance regional prescribed fire capacity, while also enhancing research to better understand the ecological response of wild plant and animal species following fire.
At this TREX event, participants will learn how to safely conduct prescribed burns in various vegetation types across three counties. Along with multiple prescribed burns, the weeklong program will include lectures and seminars on local fire ecology of plant and animal species, tribal burning practices and burn planning led by multiple burn bosses and other experts.
Burn locations may include the Nyland property (owned by Trust for Public Land and San Benito Agricultural Land Trust) near San Juan Bautista, the Santa Lucia Conservancy near Carmel Valley and the Kechun Village (owned by the Nason family) in Arroyo Seco.
Be advised, while the CCTREX works closely with the Monterey Bay Air Resources District (MBARD) to assure good smoke dispersal, smoke may be seen and present in these areas during and after a burn. Please see the CCPBA webpage for updates on upcoming burns: http://calpba.org/centralcoastpba.
BurnBot, a new technology featuring a mobile burn chamber, remote-controlled mastication and fire drone systems, will be used for the prescribed burn on June 4. To observe the Nyland burn on June 4, register at https://bit.ly/CCPBApublicRxfire. Details including time and directions will be emailed to registered participants.
Participants and partners include members of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band and the Esselen Tribe of Monterey County, University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, Resource Conservation District of Monterey County, CAL FIRE, local land trusts, scientists, ranchers, students, researchers, land managers and others. The CCPBA is funded by two CAL FIRE wildfire prevention grants.
For more information, contact Jamie Tuitele-Lewis, fire fuel mitigation program and forest health coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org or Barb Satink Wolfson, UC Cooperative Extension area fire advisor, at email@example.com.
- Author: Susie Kocher
The new El Dorado/Amador Prescribed Burn association, formed in August 2021, has conducted several burns with private landowners and received funding for a part-time coordinator.
A new group of local residents dedicated to helping private landowners conduct prescribed burns on their own properties has formed in El Dorado and Amador Counties. The group was convened by Susie Kocher, forestry advisor for the University of California Cooperative Extension in the Central Sierra.
“Prescribed Burn Associations, or PBAs, are groups of landowners helping each other to both learn how to use prescribed fire to manage their properties and to help each other carry it out. They have been common in other states in the Midwest and Southeast United States, but are relatively new to California,” said Kocher. The first PBA was formed in Humboldt County and now there are at least 20 in various stages of development throughout the state.
New El Dorado/Amador PBA holds first burns
To date, the local group has held workshops on prescribed burn use, planning and integration with targeted grazing for fuels reduction. The group held their first broadcast burn on May 15, 2022, at LBS Ranch in Placerville. Due to rain in April, the group was able to take advantage of the tail end of the spring burning window. The event served as an educational opportunity for members to get more live fire experience and discuss the planning and implementation process.
Those who attended were landowners, volunteer fire department members, foresters and community members with varying degrees of experience. Together they reduced fuels and resprouting shrubs by burning an acre of forested land that had previously been thinned and masticated. Fire behavior and effects occurred as planned, with low flame lengths and good consumption of live and dead vegetation.
Funding received for part-time coordinator
In April, the University of California Cooperative Extension was awarded funding through a Regional Forest and Fire Capacity subaward from the Watershed Research and Training Center, by a grant awarded by the California Department of Conservation to hire a part-time PBA coordinator. A total of nine PBAs across the state received subawards to fund leadership, peer mentorship, training and travel. The El Dorado/Amador PBA was awarded funding for a half-time coordinator for the next two years. The new coordinator, Kestrel Grevatt, is based at UC Berkeley's Blodgett Forest Research Station and will be splitting her time between the PBA and her role as intern forester at Blodgett. She has a background in fire suppression, prescribed burning and implementing and overseeing fuels reduction work.
Looking forward, the group is planning a burn plan writing workshop for August. This workshop will be intended to help landowners understand the prescribed fire planning process, necessary burn plan components and help them walk away at the end of the day with a drafted burn plan. Attendees will have the opportunity to download and create maps, plan burn units, discuss permits needed and smoke considerations, and write a weather/fuels prescription, all with guidance from PBA leaders and agency representatives. Through the fall and winter, the group's priorities will be to implement burns and make local and regional training opportunities available to members.
“The overall goal of the group is to give community members the support to safely and effectively put good fire on the ground. By starting small, with a few acres at a time, members can learn how to use this tool and develop comfort with fire as a process. Over time, with many landowners' involvement, we can continue to increase the pace and scale of prescribed fire,” said Grevatt.
For more information, please contact Kestrel Grevatt firstname.lastname@example.org.
The work upon which this publication is based was funded in whole or in part through a Regional Forest and Fire Capacity subaward from the Watershed Research and Training Center, by a grant awarded by the California Department of Conservation. The El Dorado / Amador PBA is also supported by UC ANR.
- Author: Kat Kerlin
Empowering Property Owners to Conduct Prescribed Burns
Smoke billows over the forest like a slow-moving fog. Dried oak leaves singe, crackle and curl into ash. Neighbors, scientists and agency staffers rake the embers, directing the flames with calm, careful control. Ted Odell's grandson runs along his namesake trail, Henry's Hill, to adjust a hose.
This is Odell's property in Placer County, where five of his 11 acres are being burned by prescribed fire with assistance from Placer County Resource Conservation District, UC Davis researchers and others.
“My goal is very simple: Reduce fire threat,” he said. “I'm hoping this is a cost-effective way to manage the land. I can't solve climate change, but I can make my property more resilient.”
Watch a video of the burn here.
Getting good fire on the ground
California's wildfire problem is no secret. Getting “good fire” on the ground, such as through prescribed fires and cultural burning practices, is a key tool toward addressing it. But landowners need help learning how to safely conduct burns on their properties, while also securing the necessary permits for burns to take place.
Increasingly, state and local agencies, as well as neighborhood burn associations, are creating opportunities to help landowners become a bigger part of wildfire resilience efforts.
“The burn at Odell's is an example of the kind of project the state hopes to expand, and which ecologists think is an important aspect of adapting to climate change in California,” said Andrew Latimer, a professor in the UC Davis plant sciences department.
Odell '78, a graduate of UC Davis' College of Engineering, has grazed sheep and goats, limbed up trees, and tried other fire-protection strategies, but he struggled to manage the property's fire risk.
He connected with UC Davis fire ecologist Hugh Safford after hearing him speak at a UC Davis virtual series about wildfire. When Safford visited his property, he advised Odell to treat it with prescribed fire and connected him with the Placer County RCD and its Cal Fire-funded project, Prescribed Burning on Private Lands.
“How do we actually put fire on the ground on half a million acres in California?” said Placer County RCD project coordinator Cordi Craig, referring to the state's shared stewardship agreement with the U.S. Forest Service. “Our goal is to empower half a million landowners to burn 1 acre. We're trying to give private landowners the knowledge, skills and confidence to put fire on the ground and use good fire as a forest stewardship tool.”
Community wildfire resilience
It's a springlike day in February when Odell's burn takes place. Miner's lettuce and wild hyacinth are already emerging from the ground, a reminder of the region's rising temperatures.
Just before Odell lights the first flame, a neighboring family walks over the hill. They include grandparents and a mother holding her baby. Some neighbors had their own property treated with prescribed fire the previous week, and they've come to observe and learn from those here, who include Craig, retired Cal Fire battalion chief Chris Paulus and several fire scientists from Safford's lab in the UC Davis environmental science and policy department.
“We have to reestablish our burn culture, that knowledge, and work as neighbors to do a lot of good,” Paulus tells the group, noting that Indigenous people routinely burned this land for acorn production and other benefits before European settlers arrived.
Monitoring the prescription
UC Davis is monitoring the results of this and several other prescribed burns across the state — ranging from Yosemite to Klamath national forests and throughout the Sierra Nevada — as part of the California Prescribed Fire Monitoring Program, in partnership with Cal Fire and the California Air Resources Board.
“Landowners are small, but they add up, and together they form an important base,” said John Williams, a UC Davis project scientist who leads the monitoring program. “Our mandate is to see what effects prescribed burns have and to use the data we collect to help land managers and owners achieve their ecological restoration and fuels reduction goals.”
Now in its third year, the program monitors nearly 600 plots across more than 25 sites in California. Once a site is identified for burning, scientists and field crews conduct vegetation surveys, and measure things like forest structure, downed woody debris and leaf litter. They record fire behavior during the burn and then return twice — in the immediate weeks after the fire and a year later — to collect post-fire data and learn how well the prescribed burn objectives were met.
The data they collect will become part of a database that forest agencies and even landowners like Odell could use to have a better idea of how a prescribed burn might behave at a property. Such a database could also help foresters prioritize areas for treatment, restoration, reseeding and other efforts.
Enormous tasks, reasons for hope
Williams said people sometimes think prescribed burns are a silver bullet for managing wildfire. But he said the task ahead is enormous.
“To my knowledge, the most we as a state have burned in a year is around 120,000 acres,” he said. “There are roughly 30 million acres that are one or more fire cycles behind because of suppression. So there's a lot of catching up to do.”
That said, he sees cause for optimism for several reasons:
- Local, state and federal agencies that were long dominated by fire-suppression strategies are now expanding and promoting prescribed burning and other treatments, and putting money behind it. It may not be happening at the scale and speed we'd like to see, but it's happening.
- Prescribed fires — and the smoke that accompanies them — are becoming more socially acceptable to residents, most of whom have now witnessed or experienced the impacts of high-severity wildfire.
- Cultural burning and Indigenous practices that use fire not just as means to avoid worse fire, but to restore the land, are being included and acknowledged in state and national forest plans. “There's now much more language and directives to build on these traditions that we [non-Native people], at best ignored and at worst suppressed and tried to stomp out,” Williams said.
- More landowners are forging connections to bring fire back to their properties, as seen by keen interest in Prescribed Fire Training Exchanges (TREX) events, and other outreach efforts. Prescribed burn associations, such as those in Humboldt and Nevada counties, are also experiencing broader appeal. Williams said that in divisive times, prescribed burns are one event that is bipartisan.
“You can't identify a prescribed burner by their political party,” he said. “These associations are bringing neighbors and communities together.”
For Odell, he's hopeful not to need as much assistance the next time he needs to treat his land with fire.
“Am I comfortable? Not yet,” he said. “But we do this to get a sense of it. Part of it is just being around it and seeing it.”
- Author: David Liebler
Reposted from UCANR news
On a crisp and clear morning late last year, around 20 volunteer firefighters, landowners and community members gathered on a plot of land outside of the small rural community of Kneeland in Humboldt County. They listened intently to detailed instructions on how to safely burn 20 acres of private property that gradually rises on a hill before them. The volunteers gathered to learn how to successfully undertake a prescribed burn. It was all part of the ongoing education and training being conducted by Humboldt County's Prescribed Burn Association – the first of its kind west of the Rockies.
Lenya Quinn-Davidson and Jeffery Stackhouse, who both work for the UC Cooperative Extension in Humboldt County, developed the program in 2017 and have seen it steadily grow ever since. The association is comprised of landowners, nonprofits, volunteer firefighters and other community members who work together to carry out prescribed burns on private land. Until the association was created, most landowners and community members had lacked access to prescribed burn information and training.
“Fire is a natural part of California's landscape. Prescribed fire is a way for us to bring fire back to the landscape as a natural process under controlled conditions. We can choose the weather, we can choose how it's going to burn,” says Quinn-Davidson. “Private landowners have largely been left out of the fire picture and we realize that is a big part of the problem.”
The goal of the prescribed burn on that October day was to eliminate an invasive type of tree that was overtaking the grassy hill and restore the land to a state where native oaks can thrive once again. The property owners are receiving the same training as the volunteer firefighters on hand. Beyond eliminating invasive species, the association is utilizing prescribed burns to reduce fuels to prevent future wildfires, as well as restore wildlife habitat. But most importantly, the training and education empowers landowners and others to reconnect with fire as a management tool.
Since the Association was created, it has burned more than 1,000 acres in Humboldt County. The association has also been able to build a strong working relationship with CalFIRE, which also conducts prescribed burns on private lands in Humboldt.
Will Emerson is an assistant fire chief for the volunteer Bell Springs Fire Department in northern Mendocino County. He and his three colleagues made the 2.5-hour trip to participate in the prescribed burn training session in Humboldt County. He sees the trainings as a “really great experience” for volunteer fire departments, some of which have new trainees who have never worked a fire before.
“It's excellent training for them — just to get comfortable working with fire,” Emerson says.
The concept of a prescribed burn association is catching on. Quinn-Davidson and Stackhouse have presented the Humboldt County model to numerous counties around the state, and new associations are cropping up around California.
“We use our program to train people, to inspire people, to empower people,” Quinn-Davidson says.
The value of Humboldt County's Prescribed Burn Association goes beyond the training it provides. Quinn-Davidson and Stackhouse view the association as a “community cooperative,” bringing together groups that have traditionally been at odds. At any training session you may find volunteers from the ranching or timber industry, environmentalists or cannabis growers.
“Instead of being on opposite sides of an issue, people are gaining understanding for the other side,” Stackhouse says. “It has opened the door for real, honest communication between different groups that otherwise would not be happening. Having people work together who have been on different sides of the community really is amazing.”
Quinn-Davidson agrees. “We are building community and we are using fire as this positive, synergistic thing,” she concludes. “And I feel so positive about it.”
The CSAC Challenge Awards were created in the early 1990s to recognize county innovation and best practices. Humboldt County's Prescribed Burn Association is a recipient of a 2019 CSAC Challenge Award – one of only 18 Challenge Awards presented statewide out of 284 entries.
To view a video of this program on YouTube, click here.