Posts Tagged: Wildfire
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>
Planning brochure for pets, livestock fills crucial need as fires an increasing threat
With the McKinney Fire creeping closer to Yreka in the summer of 2022, Emily Jackson and her mother potentially faced the enormous task of getting all their goats, chickens, dogs and cats to safety – while Emily's father and twin sister Lindsay were away fighting the fires.
Fortunately, Emily and Lindsay had gained crucial knowledge about evacuating animals through a 4-H service-learning project they helped lead in 2018. A group of eight 4-H youths, ages 14 to 18, had created a “Pet Emergency Evacuation Plan” (PEEP) brochure, aimed at educating their neighbors in Siskiyou County about the necessary preparations for livestock and pets.
The brochure, available through the Siskiyou County website, remains in use today in this densely forested region that saw another spate of wildfires this summer. The PEEP project team was composed of Kylie Daws, Emily Jackson, Lindsay Jackson, Will Morris, Madison Restine, Maryssa Rodriguez, Emily Smith and Callahan Zediker.
Within those stressful hours in 2022 when the McKinney Fire prompted an evacuation warning during which residents could be required to leave at any moment, Emily Jackson said she and her mother had a game plan in place – thanks to her work on the PEEP project.
“At the time, it wasn't even on my mind,” Jackson said, “but looking back now, I know that having the experience from making that brochure was driving my thought process at the time.”
And while the Jackson family and their neighbors ultimately were not asked to evacuate in 2022, many community members have benefited from the hundreds of copies of the PEEP brochure in circulation, which prompts residents to at least think about what their animals would need in an emergency, Jackson said.
Pet and livestock evacuation tips were needed
Such a resource previously had not been available among the county's emergency preparation materials, according to Jacki Zediker, the 4-H regional program coordinator in Siskiyou County who advised the PEEP project group.
“One piece that was missing was how to help our communities understand that when they evacuate, and they take their pets with them…it's not as simple as just taking their pets with them,” said Zediker, citing the example that some shelters do not take in animals – or do not take animals without proof of vaccination.
Other items to add to the pet's emergency kit include food for several days, water, medications, comfort items or toys, and recent photos of the owner with their animal (proof of ownership).
Zediker had connected the young people with Jodi Aceves, senior deputy agriculture commissioner/sealer for Siskiyou County, who had been overseeing the county's Animal Control programs and emergency response.
“There's a lot of information out there for people evacuating, but not necessarily for livestock and pets,” Aceves said. “Unfortunately, we have had some fires where there were lots of pets and livestock lost.”
She met several times with the 4-H group, discussing the county's evacuation systems and processes and the role of the Office of Emergency Services and law enforcement agencies, and sharing key considerations in preparing for emergencies – such as having a pre-agreement in place with someone who could house an evacuee's animals.
Aceves praised the teens for distilling the vital information into a short and simple brochure that community members could easily read and remember. She also was impressed by the energy and genuine care that the young people put into the project.
“Most of their lives, every summer, they've been in fire,” Aceves said. “It's close to their hearts, and they've seen a lot of their neighbors and other people in the county either affected by fire or evacuated at some point.”
For Lindsay Jackson, in particular, fire and serving the community have been lifelong passions, inspired by her father's work in the area.
“My dad was a volunteer fire chief for the South Yreka Fire Department; he was doing that since I was about two or three, so I grew up watching him go to the trainings, go to a call,” she explained. “When I was 15, I joined the fire department as a cadet to help out with the medical side, but the more I volunteered, I really liked the fire side, too.”
Jackson added that Zediker has a special knack for nurturing and encouraging the interests of the 4-H participants and applying them in a productive way.
“Jacki was really good at figuring out where our passions were and then how we could put our passions into a service-learning project,” she said. “She knew I was really big into fire and helping the community in that way since I was young.”
Zediker also helped the Jackson twins on their senior project, a fire-safety field day at the South Yreka fire station. More than 100 schoolchildren learned fire safety basics, met firefighters and emergency personnel, and heard about 4-H from Lindsay and Emily.
4-H experiences, mentorship inspire career paths
The PEEP project group also was asked by several organizations to share their knowledge about emergency preparations for animals. In addition to presenting a poster about their work at the 4-H California Focus conference in 2018, the group handed out the brochure and shared information at a table during a Juniper Flat Fire Safe Council workshop and resource fair.
Beyond distributing the PEEP brochure at 4-H club meetings, school events and community meetings, the youths have lent their voices to advocating for emergency resources for animals. Zediker noted that they contributed testimonials that helped the county acquire grants for purchasing more portable kennels.
But the most enduring impact of 4-H participation and community service, however, is that those experiences were a springboard for the young adults' careers. Emily Jackson – who participated in 4-H from age 5 to 19 – is now working toward a master's degree in biology at Cal Poly Humboldt, studying how fire suppression and other factors have changed plant communities in the Russian Wilderness.
Whether training colleagues as a U.S. Forest Service crew lead for the past couple of summers, or leading lab sections in general botany as a graduate student, Jackson said she draws on her 4-H experiences – and Zediker's inspirational example – as she pursues a career in teaching.
“In my development as a young adult into an adult now, I cannot overstate how big of a role Jacki played in that,” Jackson said.
Her sister Lindsay, meanwhile, has pursued her passion for fire all the way through the fire academy at College of the Siskiyous, where she also earned her emergency medical technician (EMT) license. Most recently working on fires near Pondosa in Siskiyou County, Jackson has been a seasonal firefighter based at the McCloud CAL FIRE station since 2020.
“It's hard because, in the last three years, I haven't left Siskiyou County, there's just been so many fires here,” she said. “But it's nice being able to help your community and know you're making a difference.”
Lindsay Jackson intends to pursue a bachelor's degree in leadership studies at Cal Poly Humboldt in hopes of getting a full-time position with CAL FIRE./h3>/h3>/h3>
A wildfire shockwave recently hit California. Maybe you missed it. While there were no large wildfires threatening homes, and the air wasn't thick with smoke like in the Northeast from the wildfires in Canada, a shockwave did hit.
State Farm, California's largest home insurance company, issued an emergency declaration. As I write this, I note that my homeowner's policy is with State Farm, and while this may not affect me today, it could affect me when I choose to sell my home or buy a new one.
State Farm announced they will stop issuing new home insurance policies. Allstate issued a similar policy last year. These actions, in essence, shrink the available pool of insurers in California and are a very troubling sign for all of us. Furthermore, this action may significantly lengthen the time it takes to sell or buy a home in California or may affect our long-term ability to sell in the future and capture the financial values we have in our properties.
The loss of over 43,000 structures to wildfire over the last 10 years has not gone unnoticed by the insurance industry. Increasing fire hazards and skyrocketing costs to rebuild has everyone on notice that business-as-usual is not working.
California's policymakers and the Insurance Commissioner have their hands full with structuring the insurance market, creating a market that manages risk and attracts a diversified pool of insurance carriers, stabilizing insurance availability and affordability, and supporting the real estate sector of California's economy.
As a member of the state's Risk Modeling Workgroup, I can tell you that many approaches are being debated to address our challenges, including 1) allowing reinsurance calculations to be a part of insurance rates, 2) finding other ways to fund the Fair Plan (California's insurance plan of last resort), and 3) allowing catastrophe models to forecast risk in order to better anticipate future losses. With the passage of Proposition 103 in 1988, rate setting has been driven by past claims experience. Most suggest that future losses are likely to be significantly worse than past losses.
On July 13, the California Insurance Commissioner will hold a public hearing on whether rates should utilize catastrophe models that can account for anticipated climate changes and risk mitigation actions taken by property owners. Further, the state's Risk Modeling Workgroup will issue a report on this topic later this summer.
While these approaches are nuanced and complicated to understand, there are many actions that property owners can take to protect the value of their properties and mitigate risks.
Given this period of insurance instability, the best action property owners can take is to understand and mitigate wildfire risks. Reducing fuels, improving defensible space, and hardening the exterior of their structures to heat, flame and ember exposures will help to entice insurance companies to underwrite your property, enhance the ability to sell the property, and improve the odds of the building surviving future wildfires. By marketing the value of these actions, just like the remodeled kitchen or other property upgrades that attract homebuyers, you can market your asset to future insurance companies and buyers. Proactive actions, like upgrading vents, are a key part of the solution.
AB 38 (2019) started this process by mandating that the seller of a property disclose to the future buyer defensible space actions that have occurred for properties in Very High and High Fire Hazard Severity Zones. In 2025, these disclosures need to include home hardening actions based on an established low-cost retrofit list. Over time, these actions are likely going to become key for the negotiation of price and potentially the closure of the sale.
Independent assessment of preventive actions may also be helpful. The Safer From Wildfires program was established in 2023 to help promote insurance discounts for the voluntary adoption of wildfire mitigation actions; in my opinion, it could be used as an insurability assessment as well. Another option is to consider the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety's Wildfire Prepared Home designation. Helping your community think through the issues and take collective action to meet a Firewise designation is another approach to consider.
More information about home hardening and defensible space can be found at UC Cooperative Extension's Fire website. And if you need help navigating a recent insurance cancellation, United Policyholders, a consumer rights advocacy organization, has helpful resources.
Wildfire adaptation will not occur overnight, but I believe we have a pathway and clear evidence to demonstrate that these types of specific actions will help all of us live successfully with wildfire in California now and into the future.
First-of-its-kind fund to offset losses if prescribed or cultural burn damages property
The State of California rolled out a first-of-its-kind approach to curbing the state's catastrophic wildfire problem on June 19 by providing new protections for prescribed fire and cultural burning practitioners. The $20 million allocated for the “Prescribed Fire Liability Claims Fund Pilot” will cover losses in the rare instance that a prescribed or cultural burn escapes control.
California Senator Bill Dodd authored the 2022 bill (Senate Bill 926) that made this fund possible, continuing his many years of leadership on wildfire and prescribed fire-related legislation.
“Prescribed fire is a cost-effective way to minimize the scope and severity of wildfires,” said Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa. “It's a tool that has been used for millennia by Native American tribes and one that will continue to play a big role in wildfire prevention. The rollout of this fund is a big step toward keeping California communities safe.”
The use of prescribed fire and cultural burning — sometimes collectively called “good” or “beneficial” fire — is a key component of wildfire risk management in California. These projects reduce hazardous fuels, help restore ecological and cultural values, and make our communities safer and our ecosystems more resilient to wildfire. However, lack of liability insurance for practitioners has been a major barrier to increasing the use of prescribed fire, even as firefighters, fire scientists, at-risk communities and state, federal and tribal leaders call for more.
The Prescribed Fire Claims Fund pilot project removes a significant barrier to obtaining insurance for potential damages from a prescribed fire or cultural burn conducted by a certified prescribed fire burn boss or a cultural fire practitioner,” said CAL FIRE Director/Chief Joe Tyler. “As we continue to focus on increasing the resiliency of the state's forests, creating a pathway for private burn bosses to have the significant protection this claims fund provides is a critical step toward reaching the goals of the Governor's Wildfire and Forest Resilience Action Plan.”
The fund will provide up to $2 million in coverage for prescribed fire projects led by a qualified burn boss or cultural practitioner. The fund is meant to demonstrate that prescribed fire, when carefully planned, resources and implemented, is a low-risk land management tool that mitigates the larger, more damaging risks of high-severity wildfires. The fund is the first of its kind nationally and is the result of several years of collaboration by a diversity of partners working with Senator Dodd's Office, including The Nature Conservancy, CAL FIRE, the University of California Cooperative Extension, the California Department of Insurance, tribal representatives and many others.
“Launching this program is a key step in scaling ecologically based forest management to reduce the risk of megafires. We appreciate Senator Dodd's leadership and the expedient work of CAL FIRE and beneficial fire practitioners to develop this fund as the next fire season quickly approaches,” said Dan Porter, The Nature Conservancy's Forest Program director.
The fund will also advance cultural burning, helping Indigenous Californians restore their connection to fire.
“Cultural burning is an essential practice to meet diverse objectives, including biodiversity stewardship, ecological health and community safety. The availability of this pilot fund provides cultural fire practitioners a safeguard against financial risk in the unlikely event of an escaped burn. This is a significant incentive to support revitalization of burning traditions following the legacy of policies banning such practices,” said Don Hankins, professor of geography and planning at CSU Chico and co-founder of the Indigenous Stewardship Network.
This fund is part of a larger vision for restoring beneficial fire across California's fire-adapted ecosystems. Last year, the state released its Strategic Plan for Expanding the Use of Beneficial Fire, which identified this claims fund as a priority. The state has also rolled out a state-certified burn boss program, changed the liability standard for prescribed fire, and made investments in prescribed burn associations, agency staffing, and other related efforts.
“We are using every tool to protect Californians, including using prescribed fire to fight wildfires,” said Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara. “The Prescribed Fire Claims fund will be critical to assisting our tribal groups, nonprofits and private landowners who are leading the way. This is an example of government being innovative and leading by example. The data that we get from the claims fund is going to be essential to our on-going education with insurance companies to support insuring this important work.”
Lenya Quinn-Davidson, Fire Network director for the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, says the recent momentum is unparalleled.
“Californians are desperate to have a better relationship with fire, and only with innovative approaches like this claims fund will we be able to unleash the good work that needs to happen,” said Quinn-Davidson. “It's a challenging time to be working on fire in California, but also an incredibly inspiring time.”
More information about the Pilot Prescribed Fire Claims Fund can be found on the CAL FIRE Website at https://www.fire.ca.gov/what-we-do/natural-resource-management/prescribed-fire, including frequently asked questions and an enrollment form for practitioners./h4>
Free forester site visit for landowners who complete workshop series
Forest landowners in Solano and Sacramento counties are encouraged to learn about their forests and connect with natural resource professionals in their areas during the next Forest Stewardship Workshop Series from University of California Cooperative Extension, July 18 to Sept. 12. These programs can be essential for small landowners who seek to make their forests resilient against wildfire.
Upon completing the nine-week series of virtual and in-person sessions, landowners also will be eligible for a free site visit from a local Registered Professional Forester (RPF), Certified Range Manager or California Certified Burn Boss.
Content is applicable to all forest landowners regardless of where their forest is located and will highlight talks from the local Resource Conservation District, UCCE forestry advisors, CAL FIRE, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and other natural resources community leaders. Registration fee is $60 for the workshop series, which will address common concerns among California landowners, including but not limited to:
- Forest ecology and vegetation management
- Financial planning and cost-sharing opportunities
- Oak woodland management and targeted grazing
Past participants have rated the workshop series highly, with 98% of 2022 participants rating the series overall as excellent or very good. In addition, 94% of past participants reported greater awareness of applying for and using cost-sharing programs.
A past participant has described the workshops as very accessible, saying “they (UCCE) broke things down into small pieces, [and] staff were always an email away.” In seeking to make an otherwise large amount of content approachable, UCCE hopes that landowners come away with a holistic understanding of the management process.
The workshop will take place in a hybrid setting, with classes taking place weekly online over Zoom. Participants will also engage in practical learning through a field day, where they can meet other cohort members and UCCE professionals at an outdoor field location.
At the conclusion of the workshop series, landowners will be equipped with the knowledge and network that will empower them to manage their forests in ways that meet their specific goals and objectives.
Community members in Sacramento and Solano counties interested in forest management, forest and fire ecology, and related topics are encouraged to register: https://surveys.ucanr.edu/survey.cfm?surveynumber=28675.
Forest landowners across California can learn about upcoming workshops in their areas, and also find additional resources, publications and videos: https://ucanr.edu/sites/forestry/Stewardship/./h3>