The Burning Question?
Fires have always been a natural component of many of the earth’s ecosystems, this is especially true in California. Fire has been a significant factor in shaping the Sierran ecosystem. Natural fires have swept through plant communities at frequent intervals providing favorable conditions for many plant species to regenerate and flourish. There is ample evidence that Native Americans greatly changed the character of the landscape with frequent low intensity fire. Native Americans used fire as a tool, intentionally setting fires to enhance desirable plant growth. Lightning caused fires were frequent and burned at a low intensity. Historically, human caused and lightning fires kept the accumulation of ground litter, dead grass, thick brush, and dead trees at a low level through the Sierras.
Fire thins out competing species, recycles nutrients into the soil, releases and scarifies seeds, and opens holes in the forest canopy for sunlight to enter. All of these are critical to forest health and natural cycles of growth and decomposition.
Plants are not the only living things that have evolved with and adapted to fire. Animal species are just as much a part of the “fire environment.” Increased forage that results after a fire, allows the populations of many animals low on the food chain to increase in their populations. Species above them on the food chain also benefit from increased food supplies increasing their populations as well.
Despite the evidence that fire is a necessary element in the Sierra Nevada, over most of the past century people have for many reasons and suppressed fire whenever possible. The accumulation of dead forest litter and duff now presents extreme hazards to the health of the trees, soil, and wildlife, to humans living in these areas, and to the taxpayer who has to fund the fighting of catastrophic wildfires.
To protect the homes and improve the health of the forest, we must reduce the fuels. Many places on the forest are primed for an intense wildland fires, because of fuel build-ups, a greater density of small trees, and more structures in and around the forest. The hot, dry windy climate, steep topography of the Sierra Nevada and numerous fire starts, both human and natural set the scene for large fire potential.
Prescribed burning makes national forest lands less vulnerable to wildfires during the fire season. Each burn removes brush and small trees and forest litter that can carry fire into the tops of taller trees and into fast moving high intensity wildfires.
The Burning “Window”, All prescribed fire are ignited within a predetermined set of weather conditions that ensure resource objectives will be met, fires can be easily kept within the project areas, and that smoke will not impact communities. Conditions this fall changed very quickly from very hot and dry, to cool and damp, leaving very little opportunity for the successful underburning of vegetation this fall. Pile burning is currently taking place now scattered throughout the forest.
Prescribed Burning Maps