UC ANR among sponsors of 10th International Fire Ecology and Management Congress
Scientists, land managers, educators and students from a variety of organizations worldwide will gather from Dec. 4-8 in Monterey, California for the 10th International Fire Ecology and Management Congress. The conference is hosted by the Association for Fire Ecology in cooperation with the California Fire Science Consortium.
Major sponsors include University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, with the Esselen Tribe of Monterey County as the host tribe. There are more than 25 additional sponsors and exhibitors representing federal and state agencies, universities, nonprofits, tribal organizations and companies.
“As we know from recent fire events across the globe, wildland fire issues are complex and there is an urgent need to work together in new and creative ways to address wildfire-related challenges,” said Lenya Quinn-Davidson, Fire Network director at UC ANR. “We need to identify opportunities to promote fire-resilient communities and environments.”
This event will include workshops, field trips and three full days of presentations, discussion groups and networking opportunities around the theme, “Igniting Connections: Celebrating Our Fire Family Across Generations, Cultures and Disciplines.”
On Monday, Dec. 4, the Fire Congress will kick off with 10 workshops and trainings, offering opportunities for participants to build and apply new skills in modeling, collaborative planning, risk management and more. From Tuesday morning to Thursday afternoon, the Fire Congress program is filled with innovative plenary sessions, more than 500 oral and poster presentations, and opportunities for sharing information through discussion groups and meetings.
For the first time, the conference will also feature an Indigenous Culture and Art Showcase, taking place on Tuesday, Dec. 5. The entire event concludes on Friday, Dec. 8 with field trips to explore nearby natural areas to see how the concepts discussed at the Fire Congress are being applied in California.
Participants will be encouraged to share and explore proactive solutions that apply Western science and Indigenous knowledge to meet desired management and societal outcomes.
More conference information at http://afefirecongress.org.
Lenya Quinn-Davidson (University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources): email@example.com, 707-272-0637
Morgan Varner (Tall Timbers Research Station): firstname.lastname@example.org, 707-845-1659
Jeffrey Kane (Cal Poly Humboldt): Jeffrey.Kane@humboldt.edu, 928-637-4128/h3>
- Author: Kat Kerlin, UC Davis
Study highlights 4 strategies to overcome barriers to prescribed fire in the West
Prescribed fire, which mimics natural fire regimes, can help improve forest health and reduce the likelihood of catastrophic wildfire. But this management tool is underused in the fire-prone U.S. West and Baja California, Mexico, due to several barriers.
A paper from the University of California, Davis, pinpoints those obstacles and suggests four key strategies that policymakers and land managers can take to get more “good fire” on the ground in North America's fire-adapted ecosystems. The paper also provides examples of how people are surmounting some of these obstacles.
“Prescribed fire is one of the most important tools we have for restoring natural fire regimes and undoing the effects of a century of fire suppression,” said lead author John Williams, a project scientist with the UC Davis Department of Environmental Science and Policy. “But there are a number top-down barriers at the upper levels of management that keep us from growing the workforce and getting burns done at the scale and extent needed. We point out some of the big ways that agency leaders and policymakers can dismantle those barriers and empower the full range of people capable of doing this work, from burn bosses and citizen-prescribed burn associations to nonprofits and tribal groups.”
The paper, published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, centers on the North American Mediterranean climate zone, which includes most of California, southwestern Oregon, western Nevada and northern Baja California in Mexico. Lenya Quinn-Davidson, director of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' Fire Network, is a co-author of the paper.
A natural process
Fire is a natural process that has helped shape this region, but the area has experienced a spike in destructive, high-severity wildfires over the past decade. In fact, three of the five largest wildfires in continental U.S. history occurred in this region in just the past five years. This is due to a combination of climate change and fuel accumulation driven by a century of policies that encouraged fire suppression, curtailed Indigenous cultural burning, and favored harvest of the largest, most fire-tolerant trees, the study notes.
While scientists and resource managers recognize the need for more prescribed fire, its application has not kept pace with the enormity of the challenge. The study said that is because management policies prioritize fire suppression over prevention. There is also a limited fire workforce; regulatory hurdles like permitting, insurance and liability; and few incentives or protections for landowners, tribal members and other people who burn responsibly.
4 key strategies
Researchers identified four key areas where supportive institutional and agency leadership can help expand prescribed fire in the region:
1) Fire culture. After decades of emphasizing wildfire suppression, current fire management culture “does not adequately promote prescribed fire as a management tool,” the study said. Support for prescribed fire along the entire chain of command within agencies is needed to foster a new culture that incentivizes and enables prescribed fire practitioners within and outside of government agencies.
2) Funding. Prescribed fire is considerably more cost-effective than wildfire suppression, which can cost more than $2 billion a year in the U.S., but there is little dedicated funding for prescribed fire projects and lack of flexibility as to when such money can be spent. This impedes fire staffing and limits the kinds of projects that can be done. Year-round, dedicated funding and resources could help increase prescribed fire capacity.
3) Capacity building and cooperation. Connecting agencies with landowners, community members, tribes, prescribed burning associations (PBAs), prescribed fire training exchanges (TREXs) and others can facilitate responsible, effective prescribed fire and cultural burning exchanges. Such groups have limited reach and require investment and support to meet demand.
Inter-organizational agreements can also help local, state and federal agencies share resources and staffing. Formalizing and fully integrating such agreements into fire management plans remains a challenge, the study said. Collaborations that support Indigenous cultural burning are also key.
Partnerships must recognize the unique dimensions of cultural burning, which are inseparable from Indigenous culture. Educating land managers and decision makers about tribal sovereignty and federal American Indian law is critical. Introducing legislation that supports cultural burning can also foster such collaborations.
4) Monitoring and adaptive management. Designated funding and personnel for quantitative monitoring after a prescribed burn can help practitioners better measure success and then apply lessons to future burns.
“All of the barriers identified in the study can be overcome, and they have been at least partially resolved in other parts of the U.S., as well as in other Mediterranean climate regions, such as southwestern Australia,” said co-author Hugh Safford, a research ecologist in the UC Davis Department of Environmental Science and Policy and director of the California Prescribed Fire Monitoring Program. “Fundamental to setting the situation right is developing a culture of safe and regular fire use in California and neighboring states by all landowners and managers, and reducing the officiousness, risk aversion and bureaucracy that hinders access to the tool by the public.”
Additional co-authors include Ashley Grupenhoff and Beth Rose Middleton of UC Davis; Joe Restaino of CAL FIRE; Edward Smith of The Nature Conservancy; Chris Adlam of Oregon State University; and Hiram Rivera-Huerta of Autonomous University of Baja California, Mexico.
This research received financial support from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE).
This story was originally published on the UC Davis News site./h3>/h3>/h3>
How can weed control help with wildfire preparedness?
Given the large amount of rain in the winter of 2022-2023, you might have experienced a surge in annual grasses and fast-growing plants that cover most of the ground around your home and community. In my area, I observed invasive species like wild oats and mustard growing rapidly in the spring, then drying out as summer approached (Figure 1). Dry vegetation poses a major threat to our homes and communities, both in terms of ignition (possibility of starting a fire) and fire path (creating ways for a fire to spread).
Understand fire risks.
Fires require fuel to spread, and any combustible materials, including vegetation, wooden fences, or sheds can serve as fuel. Once ignited, these materials can create a direct fire path toward a residence. Fires also generate embers (small fuel brands transported by the fire plume or wind) that can ignite leaves or debris on roofs and gutters or penetrate directly into a building through vents. Embers can also accumulate near the house, especially within the first 5 feet. You can reduce your home's exposure to flames and embers by implementing defensible space and home hardening strategies. Creating a defensible space involves managing the landscape around buildings (such as houses, sheds, detached garages) to prevent fires from reaching them. Home hardening focuses on improving building components, such as vents, roofs, and gutters, that could reduce exposure to flame and ember ignition. Though it can seem overwhelming to figure out where to begin reducing your home's fire risk, in this article I will walk you through a few simple, cost-effective recommendations that have been shown to make a difference.
How do we build a fire in a firepit? We start by adding the smaller kindling, and then the larger pieces of wood. Why? Because twigs and small branches are easy to ignite, they burn quickly, and they can be used to ignite larger logs. Similarly, dry grasses and herbaceous plants are easier to ignite than other types of vegetation such as big shrubs or trees.
Weeds can be ignited directly by flames, or by embers and sparks landing nearby. A mower hitting a rock or sparks from a power tool can easily ignite dry grasses around your property. Using the firepit analogy, ground fuels such as weeds serve as kindling to spread the fire to larger fuels nearby such as fences, decks, and shrubs. Therefore, removing weeds from vulnerable locations, such as near fences (Figure 2), is a very effective way to prevent ignitions around homes and communities, and reduce potential fire paths. It's easier to remove weeds while they are still green. This reduces the risk of ignition caused by mowers and prevents invasive species from reaching maturity and producing viable seeds.
Weeds and fire paths
In addition to being easy to ignite, dry grass and herbaceous plants can also create fuel continuity. Fuel continuity, or fire path, refers to the way a fire could spread toward a building. There can be both horizontal and vertical paths (Figure 3). Weeds can provide horizontal continuity between shrubs or other combustible materials, increasing the intensity of a fire and bringing it closer to the house. Thus, it is important to create horizontal separations between groups of plants when maintaining vegetation. When burning grass ignites a fence, the fire “climbs up” from the ground, and if the fence is attached to the house, the fire can continue to climb. A fire can reach a building by using this vertical path, often called a “fuel ladder.” The risk of fire spreading to your house can be significantly reduced by removing these potential fire paths, starting with ground fuels like annual grass. However, other sources of ignition, such as embers, may create additional paths. It is therefore crucial to harden house components like vents (for example, by replacing their screens with a metal mesh of 1/8” or smaller) and keep your roof and gutters clean.
What can you do?
Maintaining the landscape and vegetation around your home and community is crucial to preventing losses during a wildfire. Prioritize your actions to reduce the risk of ignition and fire spread around your home starting from the building and working outwards. Below are some recommended actions for creating and maintaining a fire-resilient landscape:
- Remove annual weeds and litter from vulnerable locations such as fences, sheds, siding, and under decks.
- When mowing or removing grass, be careful of sparks from power tools or other machinery, especially near open areas. Make sure you have access to water in case of a fire emergency.
- Break horizontal and vertical fire paths by removing weeds and other vegetation that are easy to ignite (grass, dead twigs, and dry leaves).
- Prune lower branches of shrubs closer to the ground and clean their understory; trim lower limbs of trees that are close to other plants or buildings.
- Mulch can be effective for weed control, but it is also flammable. Do not place mulch in vulnerable locations within the first 5 feet around a structure.
- A fence creates a direct path for fires. If your fence is attached to your house, replace the last 5 feet with a noncombustible section or gate.
- Install metallic 1/8" mesh screens on vents to prevent ember entry.
- Regularly clean roofs and gutters, especially near roof intersections.
- Maintain your landscape throughout the year.
Preventing the ignition of your home during a wildfire is possible, but it requires a combination of home hardening and defensible space strategies. For more information related to wildfire preparedness, check the additional resources below:
- UC ANR Fire website: https://ucanr.edu/sites/fire/
- Reducing the vulnerability of buildings to wildfire: Vegetation and Landscaping Guidance: https://anrcatalog.ucanr.edu/Details.aspx?itemNo=8695#FullDescription
- Wildfire home retrofit guide: https://www.readyforwildfire.org/wp-content/uploads/Wildfire_Home_Retrfit_Guide-1.26.21.pdf
- Combustibility of landscaping mulches: https://naes.agnt.unr.edu/PMS/Pubs/1510_2011_95.pdf
- Landscaping and home hardening: https://defensiblespace.org/
Luca Carmignani is a UC Cooperative Extension Fire Advisor located at the UC South Coast Research & Extension Center in Irvine, CA.
Original source: UC IPM Home & Garden Pest Newsletter :: Summer 2023 issue
Auto emissions 'fertilize' fuel
Joshua trees burning in the Mojave Desert are the victims of changing patterns of wildfire, fueled by the spread of grasses that are not native to the region, restoration ecologist Justin Valliere told media in recent interviews.
Valliere, who specializes in the impacts of invasive grasses, drew the links connecting non-native invaders, air pollution and the existential threat fire now poses to the beloved trees.
“Invasive grasses in the Mojave Desert are completely altering the fire regime there… and leading to more frequent fires,” Valliere told the Washington Post.
Non-native grasses already have spread across large swaths of southern California. One factor sparking their growth, including in parts of the Mojave, is air pollution from populated areas. Emissions from cars and trucks contain nitrogen, which is like fertilizer that floats into the air, then dumps all over the landscape, Valliere told radio station KPCC-FM, part of Southern California Public Radio.
Nitrogen pollution “might seem like a good thing, but a lot of research, including my own, has shown that it really favors these invasive species over native species,” Valliere told the radio host.
The non-native grasses are tough and don't break down as quickly as native flowers. “They dry out really quickly in spring and summer… (creating) this continuous fuel bed across landscapes,” Valliere continued. “They catch fire really easily, then they carry fire very well” from tree to tree.
While air pollution "fertilizer" probably is not a major factor in the York Fire, due to its location, nitrogen does contribute to fire danger in other parts of the Mojave and elsewhere in the state. "Invasive grasses do very well in areas without nitrogen deposition, too, but where nitrogen does blow in, it makes their impacts even greater," Valliere explained.
Invasive grasses are “just so widespread at this point that there's no way we're ever going to eradicate them,” Valliere said. “We need to focus our efforts on really sensitive areas or areas where we're trying to restore native vegetation after a disturbance like a fire.”
Valliere has spent years researching native landscapes and how to restore them in southern California. He now is an assistant professor of UC Cooperative Extension, specializing in landscape restoration.
The York Fire was contained on Aug. 20, after burning more than 93,000 acres in southern California and Nevada. Three years ago, the nearby Dome Fire scorched more than 43,000 acres and killed an estimated 1.3 million Joshua trees, the U.S. National Park Service reported.
Read Valliere's comments in the Washington Post article, “Wild, weird and iconic, California's Joshua trees face a new threat: fire."
Listen to Valliere's comments in the podcast, "Wildfires are threatening beloved Joshua trees in the Mojave Desert," by KPCC-FM radio, a member of Southern California Public Radio.
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From the UC Davis • Dept. of Plant Sciences website • News: Sept. 1, 2023
Trina Kleist is the Communications Specialist for the Dept. of Plant Sciences at UC Davis. Her contact information is email@example.com, (530) 754-6148 or (530) 601-6846.
- 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.”