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Posts Tagged: Wildfire

To reduce wildfire risk, forestland owners can do winter controlled burns, says UCCE expert

When conditions are right, winter can be a good time to conduct prescribed burns for forest management, says Rob York, UC Cooperative Extension forestry specialist.

“A huge issue we have in California is fire severity. We know from research that prescribed fire can be a very good tool for reducing fire severity,” York said. “For forest landowners or foresters who want to do their own prescribed burning, winter burning can be a good entry point.”

York is based at the UC Blodgett Forest Research Station in Georgetown, where he developed a series of eight short videos demonstrating how fire can be used on landscapes during the colder months. The videos feature controlled fires conducted at the station on Dec. 6 and 9, 2020. More videos in this series will be posted during the upcoming year.

Winter prescribed burns allow landowners to reduce fuels with low risk.

Among the factors covered in the videos are climatic conditions and site selection for winter burning.

Climatic conditions

Wet or snowy weather in the fall may seem to shut the window for prescribed burning, but York said often the snow melts away and fuels dry out enough to do a winter burn.

“The idea is to be ready when the fuels dry out,” he said. Thinning trees and masticating underbrush are ways to prepare the forest for a burn.

When selecting the day of the fire, relative humidity, temperature and wind speed and direction are important considerations.

“Relative humidity should be low. You want the cloud cover to be very low. A sunny day helps dry out the fuel,” York said. “In the winter, you want that drying and heating power of the sun to help the fuel be consumed.”

Site selection

Among the factors to consider in selecting locations for winter burns is the aspect. The sun's warmth is optimized on south-facing slopes.

“That's what we're looking for,” York said. “Relatively small areas that are burnable.”

An open canopy allows sunlight to dry out the understory vegetation and surface fuels, enabling successful winter burns.

Vegetation type also weighs into winter burning decisions.

“Bear clover plus pine needles make this feasible, including conditions on the wetter side when you might not otherwise be able to burn, you can burn,” York said. “If you can encourage bear clover and pine needles, you can encourage more opportunities for low density burns, which I think do a great job to maintain low fire hazard.”

Find the complete series on the UC Forestry and Range YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/UCExtensionForestry) in the playlist titled Winter Prescribed Burning

UC Agriculture and Natural Resources brings the power of UC to all 58 counties. Through research and Cooperative Extension in agriculture, natural resources, nutrition, economic and youth development, our mission is to improve the lives of all Californians. Learn more at ucanr.edu.

Posted on Friday, February 19, 2021 at 11:26 AM
Tags: prescribed burn (6), Rob York (5), wildfire (154)
Focus Area Tags: Natural Resources

Protecting homes in wildfire-prone communities covered in new publication

A team of California and Nevada fire scientists have produced a booklet with step-by-step guidance on retrofitting an existing home to be more resilient to fire.

Susie Kocher, UC Cooperative Extension forestry and natural resources advisor and co-author of the new guide, said some homeowners feel powerless to protect their homes against California's increasing wildfire threat.

A new home retrofit guide identifies 12 vulnerable components of homes in wildfire-prone areas.
“I'm happy to tell them that's not true. There are specific actions that we can all take to reduce the likelihood of our homes being burned in wildfire,” said Kocher, who lives in a forested area near Lake Tahoe. “We need to educate ourselves on the details of home construction that make homes less vulnerable to ignition.”

The free 20-page publication, How to Harden Homes against Wildfire (http://ucanr.edu/HomeRetrofitGuide) is now available online. It includes recommendations for 12 vulnerable components of homes in wildfire-prone areas, including roofs, gutters, vents, siding, windows, decks and fences.

In the past, agencies have focused on recommending changes in vegetation and establishing defensible space. However, Kocher said recent advances in wildfire science have exposed vulnerabilities of structures themselves.

“Managing vegetation and retrofitting the home are both needed to decrease wildfire risk and help our communities become more fire adapted,” she said.

CAL FIRE awarded funding to develop and publish the wildfire home retrofit guide, funding that is part of California Climate Investments, a statewide program that assigns cap-and-trade dollars to projects that aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, strengthen the economy and improve public health and the environment.

In addition to CAL FIRE, organizations that contributed to the document are University of Nevada, Reno Extension; University of California Cooperative Extension; Living with Fire, Tahoe; Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team; Tahoe Resource Conservation District; and Tahoe Network of Fire Adapted Communities.

The team also hosted three webinars to share home fire resilience information targeted to different audiences. Videos of the webinars are available on the Living with Fire YouTube Channel:

For the public: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YX114wpPwmg&t=327s

For building professionals: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ccIAIg6xONs

For fire educators: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lOsdyVSPxnA&t=177s

 

UC Agriculture and Natural Resources brings the power of UC to all 58 counties. Through research and Cooperative Extension in agriculture, natural resources, nutrition, economic and youth development, our mission is to improve the lives of all Californians. Learn more at ucanr.edu.

Posted on Thursday, January 28, 2021 at 8:58 AM
Tags: Susie Kocher (27), wildfire (154)
Focus Area Tags: Natural Resources

Forest management can help giant sequoias and coastal redwoods survive

In 2020, 9,000 fires scorched more than 4 million acres of California, a record-breaking year, reported Alejandra Borunda in National Geographic. Fires burned through homes and oak forests, grasslands and pines — and also through patches of giant sequoias and coast redwoods, respectively the most massive and the tallest trees on earth.

Giant sequoias are not the oldest living trees, but some have been growing in Sierra Nevada forests for more than 3,200 years. They are found in 68 groves on the Sierra's western flank. The state's redwood forests grow in a narrow strip along the coast of Northern California and Southern Oregon.

The 2020 fires burned through about 16,000 acres of sequoia groves, about a third of their total area. In redwood forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains, 40,000 acres burned.

But because redwoods are well-adapted to fire, they'll likely recover pretty quickly, said Scott Stephens, a UC Berkeley fire scientist. “In some ways, this fire could make redwoods more dominant in the landscape," he said, because other trees — like the hardwoods or Douglas firs that crowded the local forests — died outright in the burns.

However, scientists are concerned one cause of the fires, climate change, could have additional impacts on these natural treasures.

Since the mid-1800s, temperatures in the western U.S. have increased by 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Fog banks are fading in coast redwood territory, and snows are less consistent in the Sierras. The changes leave redwoods and sequoias without their preferred climate conditions.

The most responsible thing to do now, Stephens said, is to “take the opportunity that has been handed to us,” and make a plan to go back in and burn again—soon, within the next few years.

UC Cooperative Extension forestry advisor Lenya Quinn-Davidson agrees that California must manage fire to help the trees survive. Tree-ring records show that humans have influenced the fire regime for better and worse as long as they've been in these forests.

“The empowering message there is, human management can actually override the effects of climate in a fire contest,” Quinn-Davidson said. “It's not just a climate story. We can't just throw in the towel, feel overwhelmed, and tell ourselves these trees are done for. That's not true!”

Towering coastal redwoods frame a Northern California highway. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Posted on Thursday, January 7, 2021 at 10:33 AM
Focus Area Tags: Natural Resources

Ag Pass program aims to improve wildfire preparedness on rangeland

Tony Toso's cattle gather at a watering hole after the Detwiler Fire in Mariposa County in 2017. During disasters, ranchers need access to their livestock to ensure they are out of harm's way and have food and water. Photo by Tony Toso

When the Detwiler Fire broke out near his family's ranch in 2017, Tony Toso was home to take defensive action to protect his family and animals. The Mariposa County rancher feels fortunate that he was on site.

“We were on the front end of the fire damage and it started on a Sunday,” recalled Toso. “Had I not been home that day, it would have been very difficult for me to access my property and help keep our livestock safe. Within a matter of hours of the fire starting, the CHP had our county road closed and would not let anyone in.”

Emergency personnel close roads around wildfires for the safety of people and to prevent them from impeding fire suppression efforts. When fire threatens large ranching operations, ranchers need to move their livestock out of harm's way and make sure they have feed and water. While volunteer groups can assist in rescuing dogs, cats, and a few sheep or horses, they don't have a rancher's knowledge, expertise and experience that are essential for managing hundreds of cattle at large-scale ranching operations.

To help rural communities prepare for wildfire, it would be helpful for farmers and ranchers to have a plan in place to coordinate with first responders, according to Max Moritz, UC Cooperative Extension wildfire specialist. Ag Pass is a program developed in Ventura County to identify farmers and ranchers to firefighters, law enforcement and other emergency personnel so they can allow them onto their property to rescue animals and identify access roads and water sources. 

“Because fires are increasingly impacting people and are not going away anytime soon, we need to figure out approaches to sustainably live on fire-prone landscapes. In a broader sense, the Ag Pass is another way that we can adapt to, and coexist with, wildfire,” Moritz said.

Matthew Shapero, UC Cooperative Extension livestock and range advisor, and Moritz have written a publication to guide people who would like to create an Ag Pass Program for wildfire preparedness in their own locale.

“Our neighbors had cattle just north of us and they tried to get in and could not,” said Toso. “An Ag Pass in that situation, would have been a huge benefit had I not been at home and then wanted to access my property.”

In Ventura County, agricultural workers can apply for identification cards from the Central Ventura County Fire Safe Council, which verifies farm information through the county's pesticide applicator permit database. Ag Pass members provide detailed maps of their farms that show access roads – including many that don't show up on other maps.

Ranch plan maps can show access roads and water sources. Source: Veterans Emergency Technical Services and Central Ventura Fire Safe Council.

Shapero, who works in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, has been working with ranchers and county agencies to create an Ag Pass program in Santa Barbara County.

“The last few fire seasons have made a program like the Ag Pass more urgent than ever, especially as awareness of wildfire's impacts to agriculture has grown,” Shapero said. “We hope that this publication provides localities with a workable blueprint that will expedite the adoption of this or similar programs.”

Shapero has been working with Anthony Stornetta of Santa Barbara County Fire and representatives of other agencies to develop a training for Ag Pass participants in Santa Barbara County.

“After being at the Carr, Sonoma, Creek and Camp fires for months at a time, I started developing the program from the fire side and presented it to California Cattlemen's Association a couple years ago,” Stornetta. “This was a great collaborative effort. After meeting with our fire safe council, we are looking at the program being fully adopted very soon.”

In September, the Bear Fire raged through the Plumas National Forest where 400 of Dave Daley's cattle roamed to graze. The fifth-generation rancher wrote in moving detail of his grueling search for surviving cows in the rugged terrain during the wildfire and posted it to the California Cattlemen's Association website.

On the left, Dave Daley's cattle headed into the Plumas National Forest to graze before lightning sparked the North Complex Fires. Right, he rounded up survivors to escape the wildfire. Photo by Dave Daley

“I was unable to get access initially,” Daley said. “After working with our sheriff, I was able to get access through his office. But it required a deputy to take his time every day for 10 days to meet me at the roadblocks and escort me for several miles into our cattle range. I am very thankful for their willingness to do so. However, it was probably not the best use of their time when they were dealing with so many crises simultaneously and the fire was still raging. If there had been an Ag Pass system, that would have simplified the process, freed up law enforcement and given me a chance to save more cattle.”

Toso, the Mariposa County rancher and president of the California Cattlemen's Association, thinks a program as described in the UC Cooperative Extension publication benefits both ranchers and first responders.

“We can not only help protect ranching families, but we can use the opportunity to build working relationships and create trust between landowners and emergency personnel, as well as provide valuable information to those first responders from knowing the lay of the land,” he said. “Helping other counties and our member ranchers get a program on the books with their respective counties will be a priority for our organization.”

“Given each community's unique agency and personnel structure, it is our belief that the Ag Pass is best administered at the local or county level, however we are working with the state to see if policy measures can be developed that would simplify and support the Ag Pass concept,” Shapero said.

The training developed for Santa Barbara County includes an overview of hazards and safety issues, entrapment avoidance, incident organization, fire behavior, working with law and fire liaisons, access to incident, carding and certification. Stornetta anticipates the Santa Barbara County training will be held in spring 2021 and hopes it can be used in other counties as well. Ranchers who are interested in the Ag Pass training should contact Stornetta or Shapero.

“Preparing for Disaster: Establishing an Ag Pass Program in Your Community,” can be downloaded for free at https://anrcatalog.ucanr.edu/pdf/8685.pdf.

Posted on Monday, December 21, 2020 at 12:51 PM
Tags: cattle (18), Matthew Shapero (7), Max Moritz (34), policy (4), wildfire (154)
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture

High-severity megafires don't preclude future fires

In less than a decade, some of the burned expanses from this year's megafires could burst into intense flames again, reported Ula Chrobak in Scientific American.

Frequent, low-severity fires, which clear out patches of low-lying vegetation and dry leaf litter, have an preventative effect. Research shows that areas burned by megafires are more likely to become susceptible to fires again. 

UC Cooperative Extension forestry advisor Susie Kocher said that a century ago, before officials quashed all wildfires, only 5% to 10% of Sierra Nevada fires would burn at high severity. Today, the proportion of high-severity fires is between 40% and 60%.

“That's way outside of what we think would have been natural,” Kocher said.

After high-severity fires, the landscape is scorched and shadeless. Without mother trees, it may take a long time, or even be impossible, for conifers to move back in. With open land and sunlight, shrubs sprout amid downed dead pines, which over time accumulate dead twigs and leaves. If there is a spark, the shrubbery and fallen wood can sustain another large fire.

“Ultimately, all of these lands are going to need management within anywhere from two to 10 years —and probably closer to two to five years after a fire—to maintain that reduction in fuel,” said Kate Wilkin, a fire scientist at San José State University. As climate change makes California hotter and drier, increasing the propensity for monstrous fires, this need will only grow.

Posted on Monday, November 30, 2020 at 4:51 PM
Tags: Susie Kocher (27), wildfire (154)
Focus Area Tags: Natural Resources

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