- Author: Susie Kocher
- Author: Rob York
- Author: Lenya Quinn-Davidson
Resposted from the UCANR Green Blog
The humble rake has been in the spotlight in recent weeks, and its role as a forest management tool ridiculed and scorned. However, most fire professionals believe rakes are a necessary part of saving California's forests.
Those who are familiar with fire are undoubtedly familiar with the McLeod, which is a standard firefighting tool and … it is essentially a rake (one side is a rake with coarse tines and the other side has a flat sharpened hoe). The McLeod was created in 1905 by a U.S. Forest Service ranger who wanted a single tool that could rake fire lines (with the teeth) and cut branches and roots (with the sharpened hoe edge). The McCleod is used to scrape fuels off of a fire line, preventing fire spread. The use of hand tools like the McLeod continues to be one of the standard ways that wildfires are stopped (although often aided by the rake's bigger and more powerful cousin: the bulldozer).
While the McLeod is a fire-fighting tool, it is also an essential fire-managing tool. When conducting controlled burns (i.e., purposeful fire), the fire is contained within desired areas by diligent raking with McLeods and other hand tools. These tools are necessary for conducting controlled burns.
While it isn't feasible to reduce fire risk by raking the forest with hand tools, if you hold a drip torch in the other hand, you could get the work done.
A drip torch consists of a canister for holding fuel that comes out of a spout (with a loop to prevent fire from entering the fuel canister) and a wick from which flaming fuel is dropped to the ground when the wick is ignited. The drip torch is the most common tool for lighting prescribed burns, which can be used to remove excess fuel buildup in the forest.
In a forest setting, these two tools — the rake and the torch — must be used together. Without a rake, the fire is not easily contained. And without a drip torch, the fuel that was raked cannot burn. Of course, prescribed burns rely on a number of other pre-specified factors (the prescription), including wind, temperature and humidity.
Using fire in a controlled manner drastically reduces the impacts of wildfire in a forest. Typically flames are kept low and most or all of the trees survive the fire, while much of the dead material on the forest floor (the “fuel”) is consumed. This reduces the risk of the forest burning at high severity in the future, thereby protecting nearby homes and towns. It also reintroduces fire as an important ecosystem process, which improves the health and biodiversity of forests and maintains the ecosystem services they provide, including wildlife habitat, water filtration and carbon sequestration.
Use of a rake and a drip torch together could make a great difference for reducing the impacts of wildfire in California and the West. The National Interagency Fire Center reported that during 2017, only half a million acres were treated with prescribed fire in the West, while 7.4 million acres (almost 15 times more) burned in wildfires. In the Southeastern U.S., where there is a long-standing tradition of prescribed burning, only 2 million acres burned in wildfires while over 5.5 million were burned using prescribed fire.
This was not always the case. Use of prescribed fire, or ‘light burning,' was once common in California until it was outlawed by federal and state policy in 1924. Although the merits of expanding its use are widely known and appreciated, it has been very difficult to do because of concerns about air quality, liability and lack of skilled burners. One of the biggest constraints is that we have very few people who have experience with ‘good fire' and very few qualified people who know how to safely burn.
As foresters and educators for the University of California Cooperative Extension, we are working to expand the use of prescribed fire on private forest and grasslands in California. Central to our efforts are educational events that give people an opportunity to experience prescribed fire first-hand. In the last two years, we have hosted workshops throughout northern California, and many of our workshops have included a live-fire component where landowners and other community members can try their hand at prescribed burning, under the direction and guidance of more experienced burners.
Our efforts in California are inspired by approaches in other parts of the country, including “Learn and Burn” events in the Southeast, prescribed burn associations in the Great Plains, and prescribed fire training exchanges (TREXs), an innovative training model developed by The Nature Conservancy's Fire Learning Network. All of these efforts have a focus on reconnecting people with fire, and they give participants the skills and experience needed to put fire back in the management toolbox.
We hope that by empowering people to pick up the drip torch (and the rake) on their own properties, we can help them educe the risk of wildfire and improve the health of their forest and range lands. There is no time to waste.
- Author: Jeannette Warnert
Reposted from the UCANR Green Blog
For millennia, fires periodically burned through California forests, thinning trees, reducing shrubbery and clearing out downed branches and debris. Without periodic fire, the forests became more dense, with spaces between large trees filling in with a thick carpet of duff, seedlings and shrubs.
As a result, today's forests are prone to more intense and damaging fires, like the Rim Fire, King Fire, and — most recently — the Camp Fire in Butte County. These fires are burning with unprecedented severity and speed, threatening large swaths of forest, towns, and even urban areas.
Using fire as part of forest management is not a new concept. Native Americans were known to burn brush to open up hunting grounds and clear shrubbery for gathering. Decades ago, iconic Berkeley forestry professor Harold Biswell said, “Fire in the Sierra Nevada is as important as rain.”
Competing forces, however, pushed foresters and fire officials toward fire prevention and suppression, particularly the cataclysmic fires of the early 20th century that leveled entire towns and left dozens of residents and firefighters dead. The fear of out-of-control blazes and the perceived damage to timber resources launched a war on fire that has lasted a hundred years. Some forest managers are urgently trying to negotiate a truce.
Making peace with fire and turning it into a useful tool, rather than a raging threat, was the objective of an October meeting in Shaver Lake of UC Cooperative Extension forestry and natural resources scientists, Southern California Edison forest managers, CALFIRE officials and U.S. Forest Service representatives.
The event also raised awareness of “pyrosilviculture,” a new forest management term coined by UC fire scientist Rob York to emphasize the importance of fire in silviculture, the management of forests for wood.
Forests have myriad benefits – recreational, environmental and economic. Nature lovers value the whisper of pine trees in the wind and green shade over hiking trails and ski slopes. Owls, bears, deer and other wildlife make their homes among firs, pines, oaks and cedars. Forests stabilize mountain slopes, which store water as snow for agriculture and drinking. People build their homes, businesses and schools out of the planks and boards cut from the straight, soft wood of conifer trees.
The value of California forest products was about $429 million in 2017, according to the USDA. Because fires can damage and destroy trees, the timber industry has historically been reluctant to use fire as a tool. That's changing.
“Fire is such an important ecological process, you can't manage for timber without fire,” York said.
York is the manager of the Blodgett Forest Research Station, UC Berkeley's 4,000-acre mixed conifer and oak forest near Georgetown where researchers study forest management practices for increasing timber yield while taking advantage of fire to enhance forest health and make forest stands more resilient to wildfire.
Controlled burning can be used to treat fuels and reverse these trends, but it has been inhibited by a number of barriers, including landowners' concerns about liability, risk aversion among fire management agencies, narrow burn windows, air quality limitations and other regulatory challenges. Now, public demand for prescribed fires is growing.
“I believe what moved the needle was, for several years in a row, there were high-severity fires in the news,” York said. “Wildfires were in the pubic zeitgeist. People began asking, ‘Why aren't we doing more prescribed fire?'”
Climate change is also intensifying the interest among the public and silviculture professionals. Because California is getting warmer and fire seasons are growing longer, high-severity fires are expected to increase.
“There would logically be a tipping point. Even though we reduce the growth of trees when we use fire, if it can prevent the loss of the forest entirely, it would be meeting the timber objective,” York said.
The vast tree die-off during the 2011-2016 drought was another jarring sign that the Sierra Nevada ecosystem is out of balance.
The U.S. Forest Service, which manages 20 million acres of forest in California, is using prescribed fire to reduce fire risk on federal forestlands, but scientists say it's not nearly enough to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire. CAL FIRE is ramping up its controlled burn efforts, but it will take time to address far-reaching areas of overgrown forestlands. The agency sometimes uses mechanical measures such as mastication and chaining before burning to pre-treat fuels and prepare units for burning.
“We need to work around communities first, and then move out to the wider landscape,” said CAL FIRE division chief Jim McDougald. “If a prescribed fire moves into a subdivision and burns houses, we take 100 steps back.”
UC Cooperative Extension is working with private landowners to encourage more prescribed burning to reduce fire risk, protect communities and timber. UCCE forestry and natural resources advisor Susie Kocher coordinated training sessions this year in four mountain communities. The sessions included local fire history and current fire research, prescribed fire permitting and legal considerations, fire weather forecasting and online tools, air quality and smoke management, fire terms and fire behavior, burn plan development, burn unit preparation and fire tools and equipment.
“Burning is a key element of forestland management and it can be safe if done properly,” Kocher said. “We provide classroom instruction and invite participants to join a live prescribed fire at Blodgett Forest as part of their training so they become familiar with the process.”
At the training sessions, UC Cooperative Extension advisor Lenya Quinn-Davidsonsaid that in some cases, private landowners can conduct burns themselves. In her hometown in Trinity County, many ranchers and landowners conduct small broadcast burns to reduce fuels and improve forage. These burns are typically quite small and usually conducted in the winter.
“This can be a good option for landowners who wish to burn small areas, but we need other options for bigger, more complex burns” Quinn-Davidson said.
In other parts of the country, landowners have formed Prescribed Burn Associations (PBAs) that allow landowners to work with neighbors and other community members on controlled burns, sharing equipment and labor while developing skills. The PBA model provides a low-cost, grassroots option for prescribed burning, and empowers landowners to work together, and with other key experts and partners, to bring fire back to the landscape, says Quinn-Davidson.
“People are desperate to do something about fire, and the PBA model gives them an option to actively engage with each other and with fire as a tool—it's very empowering,” said Quinn-Davidson.
- Author: Faith Kearns
Reposted from the Confluence - Blog of the California Institute for Water Resources
Don Hankins is a professor of geography and planning at Chico State and a Miwkoʔ (Plains Miwok) traditional cultural practitioner. He has spent his academic career working on water and fire issues in California, with a focus on applied traditional Indigenous stewardship.
You've done work on the use of Indigenous traditional knowledge related to fire and water. A major result of your research and practice has been to reveal a disconnect between current environmental management and Indigenous approaches to working with the environment. Can you say more about what you have found?
Tribal knowledge and experience are often marginalized or devalued in environmental management, and relationships between managers and Tribes are often non-reciprocal. For example, when it comes to fire, there can be a sense that Indigenous knowledge is a relic of the past. This is not the case – Indigenous fire practice is alive and well. It brought us through the major climate events of the past and is absolutely relevant to the challenges we face today.
Integrating Indigenous knowledge and people into ongoing management efforts can preserve traditional ways and invigorate agency approaches, but my own research has shown it can also subjugate Indigenous perspectives. For example, there is a great deal of resistance regarding how traditional cultural burning can be carried out in partnership with agency-based programs. Rather than recognize the knowledge and preparation that traditional cultural practitioners have, agencies see their standards-based approach as the only path to putting fire on the ground. This in turn risks traditional knowledge of fire and related cultural practices. Burning is a traditional sovereign right, but in many places, including the U.S. and Australia, legal systems work to regulate fire out of the land.
These kinds of challenges also exist with water. For example, my ancestral homelands of the Delta are now used as a major water conveyance, compromising ecosystems and Indigenous cultural properties. Despite our deep understanding of the area, Indigenous perspectives are really not considered in its management.
I also think about what nature has provided in terms of water storage within the landscape and the fact that we still see interest in building dams rather than restoring natural basins and sinks. Luckily, some headway is being made in recognizing that natural landscape features contribute a great deal to recharge and storage.
What about your work on fire and water in California do you find most challenging?
I wish I had more time to devote to research, publications, and outreach. A lot of my current work is unfunded or has limited support, despite the applicability to current issues. Some projects have started out of me seeing a research need, starting a pilot project, and getting students or community members engaged to help out in the field. I really strive to be in the field because that's where I can do what I'm most interested in: applying Indigenous approaches to management and using scientific methods to assess the results. This work provides me opportunities to advance science, but also to keep a cultural lens on the landscape to assess the condition of, and changes to, traditional resources and interspecies relationships in the places I work.
Every day I see news about new research or political initiatives, and I feel overwhelmed. Getting word out, particularly to decision makers, is challenging, likely because they are overwhelmed too. We have a lot of misinformation on major decisions. I'm thinking of the Governor declaring a drought, or referencing year round fire as the “new normal.” If we teach people to read the land, they will know it is a drought, and when good fire can be used, instead of being vulnerable to what nature will provide otherwise. If we are to succeed in living in this land, we must consider what it is telling us and not force unrealistic solutions on it.
What do you see as some ways forward to better align Indigenous perspectives and current management efforts?
- Author: Lenya N. Quinn-Davidson
To see dwarf mistletoe seeds is to experience them. These are not typical seeds that gently drop from a mature plant. Rather, they are explosive — forcibly ejected from their fruits at high rates of speed. I remember learning about this in college: that dwarf mistletoe seeds can travel up to 60 mph and fly more than 60 feet from their hosts (Hinds et al., 1963). This process is triggered by internal heat production (called thermogenesis) within the mistletoe fruit — something that's never been observed in another plant (Rolena et al., 2015). It wasn't until many years after college that I actually experienced the phenomenon for myself. I remember driving along the Trinity River here in northern California and seeing a sudden splattering of little gelatinous green balls all over my windshield. I still remember how excited I was when I realized what they were: seeds that had flown as fast as I was driving.
It turns out that the seeds are only one of many intriguing things about mistletoe. There are more than 1,300 species of mistletoe; they grow all over the world (on all continents except Antarctica!); they support and interact with wildlife in all kinds of neat ways (Watson, 2001); and they are part of human culture and tradition (even evoking a kissing response in some!). And yet they're parasitic — not usually our favorite type of organism. More specifically, they're hemi-parasitic, meaning that they obtain all of their water and minerals from their host plant, but have some ability to provide for themselves. For example, leafy mistletoe, which is common in oaks where I live, is fully photosynthetic and therefore has a limited impact on its host trees. Dwarf mistletoe is a more demanding guest, requiring water, minerals and other nutrients, and taking a much greater toll on the many species of plants that it inhabits.
As a major forest pathogen, dwarf mistletoe has a strong and well-studied connection to fire. Studies conducted in the 1970s clearly noted the relationship, pointing to fire suppression as the primary driver of increasing dwarf mistletoe abundance in many North American forests (Alexander and Hawksworth, 1975). At that time, dwarf mistletoe was recognized as one of the most damaging pathogens in many important forest types, and its impacts on the timber industry — with estimated losses of 3.2 billion board feet annually (Shea and Howard, 1969) — spurred quite a bit of research into its ecology and potential control tactics. Wildfire and prescribed fire naturally emerged as focal points for research, and those topics have continued to lure researchers, just as dwarf mistletoe has continued to wreak havoc. In a 2008 paper, Paul Hessburg and others argued that due to its wide distribution and habitat versatility, “dwarf mistletoes are probably responsible for more tree growth and mortality losses each year than all other forest pathogens combined.”
Like most forest pests and diseases, the relationship between fire and dwarf mistletoe is a two-way street: mistletoe affects fire, and fire affects mistletoe. For example, research has shown that mistletoe-infested stands of ponderosa pine have higher snag densities and higher fuel loads than uninfested stands, and that infested stands have higher crown fire potential (Hoffman et al., 2007). Mistletoe also has a number of tree-level effects that increase flammability and fire behavior potential, including the establishment of witches' brooms (dense, twiggy growth around areas of infection) and resinous stem cankers (Alexander and Hawksworth, 1975). Other research has documented reduced self-pruning and stunted growth in infected trees, both of which effectively lower the height of the live crown and thereby increase the potential for torching and canopy fire (Conklin and Geils, 2008).
The effects of mistletoe on fire behavior are fairly intuitive, but I find the effects of fire on mistletoe to be a little more intriguing. For instance, a study by Zimmerman and Laven tested the effect of smoke on the seed germination of three species of dwarf mistletoe, and they found that smoke exposure can reduce germination or prevent it altogether (when exposure exceeds 60 minutes) (1987). Earlier work by Koonce and Roth had also indicated that heat and smoke might have a disproportionate effect on dwarf mistletoe compared with their effects on the host plant (1980). Other studies have looked at the sanitizing effect that fire can have on mistletoe-infected trees. Conklin and Geils studied ponderosa pine stands in New Mexico, and they observed reductions in the dwarf mistletoe rating (DMR) — a categorical system for assessing infection (Hawksworth, 1977) — in 12 of 14 frequently burned plots (2008). This sanitizing effect was associated with average tree scorch above 25 percent, and it points to the potential utility of prescribed fire for dwarf mistletoe management, assuming that fire intensity is able to meet these minimum “scorch pruning” thresholds. Hessburg et al. also found that thinning and burning could be effective treatments for dwarf mistletoe in ponderosa and Douglas-fir forests, but that treatments would have to be implemented on regular intervals, as effects diminished after 20 years (2008).
Of course, the relationship between fire and mistletoe — and the approach to fire-based treatments — is highly dependent on the fire regime of the specific forest type in question. Much of the literature on dwarf mistletoe and fire comes out of frequent-fire forests like ponderosa pine and western mixed conifer, but lodgepole pine and black spruce are also common hosts, and their fire regimes are much different. In those types of forests, which are adapted to less frequent, more severe fire regimes, stand-replacing fire may be important for protecting future cohorts of trees from infection. Research in Rocky Mountain lodgepole pine forests showed that the time elapsed since the last stand-replacing fire was a good predictor of mistletoe infestation, and that the presence of remnant infected trees increased rates of infestation in younger, post-fire stands (Kipfmueller and Baker, 1998). In these forest types, the authors suggest that effective prescribed fire treatments would need to be intense and stand replacing.
I've always thought that mistletoe was interesting, but working on this blog opened a whole can of unexpected worms. Who knew that it was mistletoe, with its many interesting wildlife synergies, that inspired Charles Darwin to study evolution (Watson 2001)? Or that the term “mistletoe” is an ancient reference to some mistletoe species' reliance on seed dispersal by birds, who eat the seeds then deposit them on tree branches — the name comes from “misteltan,” an Anglo-Saxon word meaning “dung twig” (!!). Mistletoe has also been used by humans to bait deer for hunting (the foliage is quite tasty!); to treat infertility, syphilis, bubonic plague, epilepsy and other ailments; and to celebrate the return of summer, which mistletoe hints at with its evergreen foliage (Paine and Harrison, 1992). So with this blog, I celebrate mistletoe — i.e., dung twig, kissing plant, ballistic seeder, fire friend and foe — as quite possibly the coolest plant ever!
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Alexander, M. E., & Hawksworth, F. G. (1975). Wildland fires and dwarf mistletoes: a literature review of ecology and prescribed burning (Vol. 14). Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, Forest Service, US Department of Agriculture.
Hawksworth, F. G. (1977). The 6-class dwarf mistletoe rating system. The 6-class dwarf mistletoe rating system., (RM-48).
Hinds, T., Hawksworth, F. & McGinnies, W. Seed discharge in Arceuthobium: a photographic study. Science 140, 1236–1238 (1963).
Hoffman, C., Mathiasen, R., & Sieg, C. H. Dwarf mistletoe effects on fuel loadings in ponderosa pine forests in northern Arizona. Canadian Journal of Forest Research, 37, 662-670.
Kipfmueller, K. F., & Baker, W. L. (1998). Fires and dwarf mistletoe in a Rocky Mountain lodgepole pine ecosystem. Forest ecology and management, 108(1-2), 77-84.
Koonce, A. L., & Roth, L. F. (1980, April). The effects of prescribed burning on dwarf mistletoe in ponderosa pine. In Proceedings of the Sixth Conference on Fire and Forest Meteorology, Seattle, Wash (pp. 22-24).
Paine, L. K., & Harrison, H. C. (1992). Mistletoe: its role in horticulture and human life. HortTechnology, 2(3), 324-330.
Rolena, A. J., Paetkau, M., Ross, K. A., Godfrey, D. V., & Friedman, C. R. (2015). Thermogenesis-triggered seed dispersal in dwarf mistletoe. Nature communications, 6, 6262.
Shea, K. R., & Howard, B. (1969). Dwarf mistletoe control; a program for research and development in the West. West Forest Conserv Assoc West Reforest Coord Comm Proc.
Watson, D. M. (2001). Mistletoe—a keystone resource in forests and woodlands worldwide. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, 32(1), 219-249.
Zimmerman, G. T., & Laven, R. D. (1987). Effects of forest fuel smoke on dwarf mistletoe seed germination. The Great Basin Naturalist, 652-659.
- Author: Lenya Quinn-Davidson
Reposted from the Fire Adapted Community Learning Network blog
For many years, we at the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) have fielded questions from landowners about using fire as a tool. Ranchers and forestland owners in Humboldt County have voiced interest in using fire to improve range resources, enhance wildlife habitat, reduce fuels, and beat back the trees and shrubs that are quickly engulfing their prairies and woodlands, but we have struggled to provide them with good options.
In recent history, CAL FIRE led the majority of burns on private lands in California. In the 1980s, their Vegetation Management Program (VMP) was responsible for 30,000–65,000 acres of controlled burning every year. In recent decades, however, those numbers have consistently fallen short of 10,000 acres a year — a drop in the bucket given the habitat and fuels issues that we face in California. CAL FIRE is currently revamping and reinvesting in the VMP, which is great news, but it's clear that other pathways are needed for landowners to reclaim fire as the important tool that it is. Last year, UCCE started looking into prescribed fire models from other parts of the country. We know that other regions have impressive burn programs that blow California out of the water, and in most of those places, they've been successful because landowners are doing the burning themselves — something that's almost unheard of in California.
Over the last year, we worked with private landowners in Humboldt County to plan and implement burns. In June, we burned a 19-acre grass unit on a ranch in eastern Humboldt County, treating a patch of invasive medusahead. This Halloween, we burned 140 acres of coastal rangeland invaded by shrubs and trees. For both of these burns, we hired a qualified burn boss to write the burn plan and direct the burn, but we staffed the burns entirely with volunteers, including volunteer fire department members, landowners, and other interested community members. This model of burning — where the landowners take the lead — is truly an exciting and novel development in California, and I believe it is the critical ingredient to burning at a meaningful scale.