- Author: Daniel K Macon
There's still time to register for our first-ever Sierra Foothills Rancher's Fire Academy! We'll be covering topics like using prescribed fire to control rangeland weeds, planning your own prescribed fire, fire tool basics, ranching hardening, and managing livestock during wildfire. You'll learn from local and regional fire experts, UC researchers, and from your fellow ranchers! Each session is just $10 per ranch (with up to four people from each ranch eligible to participate)!
- Author: Kara Manke
Surrogates to wildfire
Trial by fire
- Author: Kara Manke, PhD, UC Berkeley Media Relations
Surrogates to wildfire
Trial by fire
- 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>
- Author: Daniel K Macon
Barb goatgrass (Aegilops triuncialis L.) is a winter annual grass native to the Mediterranean region and western Asia. According to a UCANR publication, it was introduced to Sacramento and El Dorado Counties via the importation of cattle from Mexico. And it is a growing problem on annual rangelands here in the Sierra Foothills. In some ways, I think of this invasive grass as "medusahead on steroids" - barb goatgrass spikes and joints (seedheads) disperse by attaching to animals, humans, and equipment. I often see new infestations along roads or walkways. Barb goatgrass forms dense stands with a rapidly establishing root system, making it extremely competitive with other annual grasses and forbs. In some areas, barb goatgrass reduces forage quality and quantity by as much as 75 percent - and because livestock tend to avoid the plant (and graze more desirable forages), it can spread rapidly.
Carol and Andy Kramer, who operate a sheep and cattle ranch in Nevada County, have been fighting barb goatgrass for several years. Most recently, they've been working with the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) through an Environmental Quality Incentives Program contract focused on goatgrass control. Over the course of the last 9 months, Carol and Andy have been working with the Placer Resource Conservation District (RCD) and UCCE to experiment with using prescribed fire to reduce goatgrass and re-invigorate native grasses.
Research suggests that burning goatgrass for two consecutive years offers "excellent control." Sounds pretty straightforward, right?! Not so fast! Fire is an effective control method when most of the fine fuel has dried sufficiently to carry the fire, but when the goatgrass seedheads are still attached to the stem - in other words, in late spring or early summer, when everyone is starting to get nervous about fire in the foothills!
A quick aside about using prescribed fire as a range improvement tool. When I started working with ranchers in California in the early 1990s (when I was just out of college, working for the California Cattlemen's Association), prescribed fire had largely gone out of vogue. This was partly a result of increasing worries about liability, and partly, as I recall, a shift in focus and attitude within the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (which became officially known as CalFire in the early 2000s). Today, after a decade of increasingly catastrophic wildfires (and the accelerating spread of invasive weeds like barb goatgrass), prescribed fire is making a comeback - thanks to efforts of many of my UCCE colleagues, RCD staffers and contractors like Cordi Craig and Chris Paulus (who led this effort), and especially of landowners like Carol and Andy!
Obviously, with something as complicated as prescribed burning, you don't simply wake up one June morning and say, "Hey, this would be a great day to light the back pasture on fire!" Carol and Andy (along withCordi and Chris, andUCCE) began planning for this burn last winter. As fire professionals,Cordi and Chris recommended putting a "black line" around the 1.5 acres ofgoatgrass during the winter months, whenCALFIRE burn permits are not required. Carol and Andy invested in water tanks and other equipment, and spent much of the winter and early spring pile burning and creating fire lines. Working together, we also burned several adjacent units to remove ground and ladder fuels in the areas surrounding thegoatgrass site.
Then we all waited! We needed the underlying fuel to be dry enough to burn, but we also needed the goatgrass to hold onto its seedheads. And we needed the right weather conditions. With the wet, cool spring we had in 2023, these conditions didn't arrive until July - well into fire season. This meant that we also needed a permit from CalFire. I've lived and worked in CalFire's NEU unit (which covers Placer, Nevada, and Yuba Counties) - and worked with and around ranchers - for nearly 30 years. I wasn't aware of CalFire ever allowing a rancher to do a prescribed fire for range improvement (or any other reason) in July. But thanks to the Kramer's persistence and Cordi and Chris's experience and knowledge, we received permission to do the burn on July 13.
Carol and Andy started the fire around 9am that morning - temperatures were hovering around 80F, and the relative humidity was just over 50%. Amazingly, we had difficulty getting the vegetation to burn - even as temperatures rose and humidity dropped over the course of the morning. By midday, we'd burned all we could burn, and began mopping up (making sure the fire was completely out).
Walking through the burn, I was amazed by the variability in burn intensity. Some of the goatgrass seedheads were completely consumed; others looked like they had not been exposed to fire at all. Carol collected seedheads from before the burn, as well as singed and apparently unsinged seedheads, to see if there will be any difference in germination (we'll keep you posted). We also started thinking about next year's burn.
One of the biggest challenges in burning for a second consecutive year, I expect, will be whether there is enough fine fuel (other grasses, pine needles, dry leaves, etc.) to carry the fire through the goatgrass. Visiting the site two weeks ago, I was impressed to see native blue wildrye starting to grow in the blackened burn unit (even with very little precipitation since the fire) - we'll be anxious to see what happens once we've had a germinating rain. Even so, we are considering broadcasting a quick-growing, early maturing annual grass (like soft chess (Bromus hordeaceus) this fall so that we have more receptive fuel next spring.
I think we all learned a great deal about the logistics of using fire to manage goatgrass (thanks to Cordi and Chris) - and about the challenges of using prescribed fire during fire season. One of the side benefits, from my perspective, is the demystification of fire generally. This was not a scary burn, even though it happened in the middle of July! While this was partly due to the conditions on the day of the burn, the work that Carol and Andy did to prepare (with Cordi and Chris's guidance) over the many months leading up to July 13 made it successful and safe. We're all looking forward to next year's fire!