Posts Tagged: Lenya Quinn-Davidson
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>
New certification program will increase opportunities for prescribed fire across California
A group of 19 experienced prescribed burners are gathered in Eureka this week to become certified as prescribed fire burn bosses. The group is the first cohort to participate in the California State-Certified Burn Boss course, part of a certification program that was mandated by legislation in 2018, but was only recently finalized and approved. The course, hosted in Eureka by University of California Cooperative Extension, is a full week session and includes topics from laws, regulations, and permits to burn planning and smoke management.
"With each catastrophic wildfire season in California, the importance of prescribed fire becomes more clear," said Lenya Quinn-Davidson, University of California Cooperative Extension fire advisor, who is hosting the class in Eureka. "Prescribed fire is one of the most ecologically appropriate and cost-effective tools available, and provides innumerable benefits in California's fire-adapted landscapes. Prescribed burning is used to reduce fuels and wildfire risk, but also to restore habitat, control invasive species, improve rangelands, and promote cultural resources and values."
California is remarkably behind when it comes to implementing prescribed fire, she said. While states like Florida burn up to 2 million acres a year, California typically burns less than 100,000 acres statewide. It's clear that fire agencies can't meet the need for this work on their own — collaboration with local communities and leaders is essential.
The new program will certify prescribed fire practitioners who don't work for a fire management agency but are leading prescribed burning in their communities. This week's inaugural class in Eureka includes retired federally qualified burn bosses, tribal burn bosses, and leaders from state and local agencies and nonprofit organizations. Once certified by the state, these burn bosses will be able to share liability with CAL FIRE on prescribed burns.
“We've needed something like this in California for a long time, but never thought we'd see it happen. This is a historic moment for prescribed fire in California,” said Quinn-Davidson, who also leads the Northern California Prescribed Fire Council, and is currently being consulted for legislation that would break down even more barriers to prescribed fire.
In the last several years, more than a dozen community-based prescribed burn associations have developed throughout California. Many of these groups were inspired by the Humboldt County Prescribed Burn Association, which was the first of its kind in the western U.S. when it formed in 2018.
When these newly certified burn bosses leave Eureka, they will be able to go home and lift up efforts on their local landscapes, contributing to fire resilience across the state.
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!”
Five of California's six largest fires have occurred in 2020, reported Julie Cart in CalMatters.
Lenya Quinn-Davidson, a fire specialist with the University of California Cooperative Extension. “This year was not just the fluke burning horrifically. This is 3.2 million acres of fire that burned in a month.”
Quinn-Davidson is based in Humboldt County, with typically rainy, foggy redwood forests. However, she said, the forests don't resemble their former state.
"They are suffering from the same things that the rest of the state forests are. They are poorly managed and have fuels buildup," Quinn-Davidson said.
Redwood and pine forests are many times more dense than at any time in their history.
"We are now entering a new regime, the climate is changing and we are seeing drier conditions and we are seeing a longer fire season. We are not getting that fall precipitation," she said.
The state's 2018 Fourth Climate Assessment included dire predictions for the North Coast: “Future wildfire projections suggest a longer fire season, an increase in wildfire frequency, and an expansion of the area susceptible to fire.”
Average annual maximum temperatures in Mendocino, Humboldt, Del Norte, Lake, Trinity and Siskiyou Counties could increase by as much as 9 degrees through the end of the century, the report concluded.
Scott Stephens, a fire scientist at UC Berkeley. “So when lighting strikes, you get an overwhelming number of ignitions in fuels that have been preconditioned to burn.”
The fog that reliably blankets the North Coast is dissipating. Research from UC Berkeley found that fog frequency has declined by a third compared with a century ago.
“Even here in Humboldt County — we are right on the ocean, basically in a rainforest — people are starting to look around and say, ‘Is my house ready for a wildfire?' I'm hearing those conversations,” Quinn-Davidson said.
The raging fires sparked during August have raised the visibility of UC fire scientists, who provide critical information to state and national media. Below are a sampling of stories and comments offered by UC Cooperative Extension experts:
Forest management needed
“When we started suppressing fires 100 years ago all the time, we actually allowed a huge buildup of fuels and debris,” said UC Cooperative Extension forest advisor Susie Kocher, who is based in the Lake Tahoe region.
She is an advocate for requiring residents to clean up the extra fuel — grasses, trees, shrubs and clutter — around their homes, making them fire ready, and for more prescribed burns.
“There's a need for more frequent, low-severity fire across the landscape, so that we wouldn't have quite so much explosion in the burning in the fields that we have currently,” Kocher said.
In August, the state and federal government agreed to clean up 1 million acres by 2025, with practices such as prescribed burns. Part of that agreement also included a commitment to create a 20-year plan by next year to prioritize areas for forest-thinning. But even this plan is sliver of what's needed to protect California from devastating future wildfires.
“I think it's a good indication they're paying attention now and that we're moving in the right direction,” said Michael Jones a UC Cooperative Extension forestry advisor in Mendocino, Lake and Sonoma counties. “My hope is that once we start with a million, then it's really easy to scale up to multiple millions.”Capitol Public Radio, Sept. 3, 2020
Taking steps to reduce fire danger
“There are things that we can and should be doing to address the fire problem and fire risk in California, and to get ahead of it, and to make ourselves more resilient,” said Lenya Quinn-Davidson, a fire advisor with the University of California Cooperative Extension and director of the Northern California Prescribed Fire Council.
Quinn-Davidson said she was encouraged when California Gov. Gavin Newsom and U.S. Forest Service officials announced an agreement this month on a joint strategy to reduce wildfire risks.
“We need more coordination and more collaboration among all of the different groups who work on these issues,” Quinn-Davidson said. “The number one thing we need is more coordinated vision around what fire is going to look like in California, how people can live with fire.”
Arizona Central, Aug. 28, 2020
What's at stake
“Every part of California is receptive to wildfire,” said Yana Valachovic, a UC Cooperative Extension forestry advisor on the North Coast. “Especially in a year like this, when we had a pretty dry winter and spring, so a lot of the state is in drought conditions.”
Sacramento Bee, Aug. 27, 2020
Fires are getting worse
"They are certainly getting worse over time," said Susan Kocher, a forestry advisor at the University of California-Cooperative Extension Central Sierra. "We burned fewer acres in wildfires in 2019 than 2018, but overall, yes, the trend is progressing to burning more and more acres at high severity over time and affecting more people through evacuations and damages to homes and communities."
Yana Valachovic, a forest advisor and county director at University of California Cooperative Extension–Humboldt and Del Norte counties, said that 100 years of fire suppression is catching up to the state as well. Valachovic said before California was settled by white pioneers around the gold rush in the 1850s, Native Americans frequently used fire as a tool —for example, to clean out an infestation of bugs in acorns.
"Fire can be really important for stimulating biodiversity and creating more food sources," Valachovic said. "After years of suppressing those fires, now we get an ignition, whether human-caused or lightning-caused or power lines down, and you have an accumulation of materials that have accumulated over various time periods, but the quantity of fuel is substantially greater than it was historically."
Salon, Aug. 25
“At the statewide level, we do get into this mode where we start wondering where the biggest loss is going to be, what's the highest priority, and that is where the resources are going to go,” said Lenya Quinn-Davidson, a fire specialist with the UC Cooperative Extension.
Los Angeles Times, Aug. 24, 2020
Q: Beyond widely accepted reasons for wildfires growing in size, severity, and frequency, why hasn't California made more progress in slowing the trend?
Lenya Quinn-Davidson: Our fire management and our land management haven't kept pace with the scientific understanding we have of fire in California. There's this fear of active land management – prescribed burning, thinning – that sometimes gets in the way of us making good choices. If we're not protecting the resources we care about and we're not taking action, then we will continue to lose them to big fires.
Bill Stewart: Many of the fires around the greater Bay Area are in areas that didn't burn 30 years ago because they were cattle ranches. They had cattle on them, and that helped reduce fuels. Now those areas have turned into parks or 5- and 10-acre residential lots. So much development has been about what's aesthetically pleasing, so we've ended up with a landscape that, during hot and dry seasons, there's a lot more fuel and it becomes a much riskier situation.
Q: The era of megafires in California has been decades in the making. How can public agencies begin to counter that over the next few years?
Quinn-Davidson: We need to create a more robust and sustainable fire workforce. Right now, they're so beat down at the end of fire season – especially as fire season is getting longer in California – that there's basically no capacity the rest of the year to do any of the proactive stuff we need to be doing. So we need to create more jobs, and those jobs need to be dedicated to fire management and land management.
Christian Science Monitor, Aug. 24, 2020
Historical fire suppression
“We have put out fires for 100 years. Now we are paying the price,” said Scott Stephens, a professor of fire science at UC Berkeley. “It will take a while to make these forests healthy again. But it's absolutely possible.”
Stephens, the UC fire scientist, estimates that before the Gold Rush, roughly 4.5 million acres a year in California burned. By the 1950s and 1960s, that was down to about 250,000 acres a year. In recent years, it has approached 2 million acres a year.
San Jose Mercury News, Aug 23, 2020
Limited firefighting resources
At the statewide level, we do get into this mode where we start wondering where the biggest loss is going to be, what's the highest priority, and that is where the resources are going to go,” said Lenya Quinn-Davidson, a fire expert with the University of California Cooperative Extension.
Los Angeles Times, Aug. 22, 2020
Smoke impact on fresh produce
According to a 2018 preliminary UC Cooperative Extension Sonoma study, smoke from 2017 fires had little impact on local Sonoma County produce.
Based on preliminary findings, "...produce safety was not significantly affected by the fires and may be mitigated by washing produce."
The Californian, August 21, 2020