Land managers launched a new push Tuesday on prescribed burning in the Sierra Nevada and other parts of California with over-dense timber and brush.
They said the practice, already well-established in Yosemite National Park and certain other places, would reduce fire losses while enhancing wildlife habitat and watersheds.
The partnership, announced during a telephone news conference from Sacramento, involves several state and federal agencies and environmental groups.
“It’s really about using the right fire in the right place at the right time,” said Randy Moore, regional forester in charge of national forests in the state.
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Details were not available on how much land needs treatment, how much has been done already and how much an increased effort will cost. But the partners agreed that California has become a tinderbox after a century-plus of suppressing the frequent, gentle fires that used to keep the fuel down.
It’s really about using the right fire in the right place at the right time.
Randy Moore, regional forester
“This is a partnership that is committed to actually doing more than talking the talk,” said Craig Thomas, conservation director at Sierra Forest Legacy, an environmental coalition based near Auburn. “We intend to walk the walk of getting increased fire on the landscape.”
The partners said they would work to ease public concerns about prescribed fire, including smoke and the risk of escape. The burns are especially hard to carry out in areas where homes sit amid brush or timber. That was the case with last year’s Butte Fire in Calaveras and Amador counties, which destroyed 535 homes and killed two people.
“Since we know that fire has no boundaries, this has to be an all-lands, all-hands approach,” Moore said.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, which oversees much of the Sierra foothills, is part of the new effort.
It also involves the U.S. Forest Service, which can use logging to reduce fuel in certain areas, and the National Park Service, which does not log. Prescribed burning has been done for a few decades in Yosemite. It was credited with blunting the Rim Fire of 2013, which spread across about 257,000 acres of the park, Stanislaus National Forest and private land.
Experts note that lightning has long sparked fires in California, and the practice was used by Native Americans and settlers who followed. The flames consume grass, downed branches and other ground fuel while leaving most large trees intact.
The fires maintain the semi-open habitat favored by deer. They burst seed cones from giant sequoias so new trees can sprout.
“Ultimately, living in California is going to mean living with fire, and we are going to have to learn once again to wield fire as a tool in that effort,” said Nick Goulette, steering committee chairman for the Northern California Prescribed Fire Council.
John Holland: 209-578-2385