Over thousands of years, just as the volcanoes erupted, blanketing mountain slopes and valley bottoms with lava and ash, and rivers carved canyons through the hills, frequent fires have shaped the landscapes of Siskiyou County. Our Ponderosa pines show us their affinity for these periodic, mild fires by how well their fallen needles burn, how they drop their lower branches as they grow taller so that fire won’t climb up into their canopy, how their bark thickens as they age to insulate themselves from flames, and how their little seedlings thrive in sunny, open patches of land. Many types of brush quickly resprout after mild burns, serving up a feast for our deer. Fire keeps the trees from closing in on our meadows and feeds nutrients back to the soil where our wildflowers flourish.
Throughout history, these fires were sparked by lightening in summer thunderstorms and by the indigenous people who lived with this land before European settlement. Local Tribes tended fire on these landscapes to cultivate their foods, medicines, and promote their hunting grounds, among many other uses. Even some early settlers lit fires to maintain grazing lands and hunting grounds. The exclusion of this historic fire cycle over the past century has resulted in a buildup of uncharacteristically high fuel loads, the decline of diverse fire-adapted and fire-dependent species, and a dramatic increase in severe wildfires.
What is Prescribed Fire?
Prescribed fire, sometimes referred to as controlled burning or broadcast burning, is a planned burn that can be used as a land management tool to meet a variety of benefits. Effective prescribed fire treatments have proven to limit wildfire size and intensity, which reduces the emissions of wildfire smoke, preserves critical wildlife habitat, and protects healthy forests and communities.
Benefits of Prescribed Burning
- Improve forest health by promoting resiliency to impacts of high severity wildfire and reducing forest density that makes forests more susceptible to drought and insect infestations’
- Reduce tree competition, promoting long-term growth rates and retention of older trees that maximized carbon sequestration and are more fire resistant;
- Restore grasslands and meadows by removing or preventing encroaching conifers and brush;
- Reduce invasive species and revitalize native species;
- Increase water percolation and surface-groundwater interactions from thinning small trees and drought-intolerant species that take up large amounts of water, which protects salmonid habitat and improves overall stream health;
- Protect streams from sedimentation that erodes after severe wildfires;
- Restore cultural resources and values to local Tribes;
- Enhance community preparedness to wildfire events;
- Improve economic viability of communities by reducing the economic impacts of high-intensity wildfires;
- Provide training opportunities for local firefighters;
- Promote outreach and education to the community about fire.
Prescribed fire has been largely dominated by federal agencies. Agencies possess the trained fire professionals, equipment, and funding to use fire as a management tool. Wildfires do not respect political ownership boundaries, which is why the Siskiyou PBA aims to expand the use of prescribed fire to the private lands whose owners have had little to no resources to implement this critical land management tool.
Now, more than ever, fire experts, researchers, and politicians alike are calling on prescribed fire to restore fire’s historic role on our landscapes and prevent the uncharacteristic wildfires that are threatening our communities and natural resources at an unprecedented scale.