What does ‘fire-adapted landscape’ mean?

Fire is a core ecological process in most California ecosystems. For thousands of years, the Bay Area was home to some of California’s highest populations of Native Americans, who used fire for a multitude of reasons: to generate fresh forage for grazing and browsing mammals, to stimulate growth of valuable basket weaving materials, to control acorn weevil populations ensuring delectable acorns for wildlife and people alike, to reduce fire hazard around home sites, to clear walking paths, and so much more.

In the North Bay specifically, nearly all of our terrestrial ecosystems depend on site-specific fire regimes. Here, nearly all plant species depend on regular fire to thrive—each system with its own unique relationship with fire and specific fire needs. Our open spaces are adapted to a specific fre- quency, intensity and timing of fire as a result of those millennia of fire-adapted stewardship by people.

After over a century of fire suppression, however, California landscapes remain in a dire fire deficit.

Why use prescribed fire in the North Bay?

The use of prescribed fire (i.e. controlled burning) builds resiliency in wildland ecosystems, reduces hazardous fuels and may enhance public and firefighter safety. Local communities can benefit in other ways too. When relatively small areas are burned under optimal conditions far less smoke is emitted than would occur during a major wildfire and the potential for post-fire erosion is reduced. Fire management professionals, scientists and land managers concur on the benefits of controlled burning and the State of California is supporting significant increases in its use in the coming years.

What are fuels treatments?

Fuels treatments consists of a range of activities, including mowing, grazing, vegetation thinning, pile burning of thinned or dropped limbs, controlled burns in grassland, oak savanna, woodlands and forests, as well as installing shaded fuel breaks (i.e. forested fire breaks) to help maintain access for land managers and emergency personnel.

What about the smoke?

Controlled burns are managed to minimize smoke impacts. Smoke and emissions from controlled burns are significantly less negatively impactful than those from wildfires. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District has strict controls on when prescribed burns may occur in order to ensure that weather conditions are appropriate to dissipate the smoke. We will not be able to proceed with the burn until we get a green light from the Air District the morning of the burn. Additionally, if smoke somehow unexpectedly becomes a public health problem, contingency response plans are in place to reduce smoke problems, which include extinguishing the fire if necessary.

What about animals living in the burn zone?

Animals that live in California’s landscapes coevolved with regular fires in their native habitat. Many of these animals even depend on fire to maintain their habitat. During a burn, research has shown that ground burrowing animals typically survive fires by staying in their burrows until the fire has passed.

Additionally, in the year following a controlled burn in grassland or oak savannah, an increase in the presence of deer is commonly noted due to improved forage quality.

What is the Good Fire Alliance?

The Good Fire Alliance is a group of private landowners who have come together to learn how to manage the vegetation needs of their properties through controlled burning and other techniques. The group strives to be a network of support for cooperatively conducted burns in the North Bay. To learn more about the Good Fire Alliance, visit calpba.org/good-fire-alliance or email Sasha.Berleman@egret.org.

What is the Sonoma Valley Wildlands Collaborative?

The Collaborative is a group of six conservation organizations and land management agencies that have agreed to coordinate fire and vegetation management with each other and with CAL FIRE’s Sonoma Lake Napa Unit (LNU) in the Sonoma Valley region. Members of the Collaborative are Audubon Canyon Ranch, California State Parks, Sonoma County Ag + Open Space, Sonoma County Regional Parks, Sonoma Land Trust, and Sonoma Mountain Ranch Preservation Foundation. Together the members own and manage about 18,000 acres of protected lands in the region. Visit the website or download the Information sheet (pdf) for more information.

What is the Bay Area Prescribed Fire Council?

ACR is a founding member of the Bay Area Prescribed Fire Council, a growing group of nearly six dozen Bay Area fire agencies, environmental organizations and academic labs who are sharing best practices around prescribed fire. For more information contact Sasha.Berleman@egret.org.