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Posts Tagged: prescribed fire

Landowners Take the Lead on Prescribed Fire in Humboldt County

Reposted from the Fire Adapted Community Learning Network blog

For many years, we at the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) have fielded questions from landowners about using fire as a tool. Ranchers and forestland owners in Humboldt County have voiced interest in using fire to improve range resources, enhance wildlife habitat, reduce fuels, and beat back the trees and shrubs that are quickly engulfing their prairies and woodlands, but we have struggled to provide them with good options.

In recent history, CAL FIRE led the majority of burns on private lands in California. In the 1980s, their Vegetation Management Program (VMP) was responsible for 30,000–65,000 acres of controlled burning every year. In recent decades, however, those numbers have consistently fallen short of 10,000 acres a year — a drop in the bucket given the habitat and fuels issues that we face in California. CAL FIRE is currently revamping and reinvesting in the VMP, which is great news, but it's clear that other pathways are needed for landowners to reclaim fire as the important tool that it is. Last year, UCCE started looking into prescribed fire models from other parts of the country. We know that other regions have impressive burn programs that blow California out of the water, and in most of those places, they've been successful because landowners are doing the burning themselves — something that's almost unheard of in California.

Over the last year, we worked with private landowners in Humboldt County to plan and implement burns. In June, we burned a 19-acre grass unit on a ranch in eastern Humboldt County, treating a patch of invasive medusahead. This Halloween, we burned 140 acres of coastal rangeland invaded by shrubs and trees. For both of these burns, we hired a qualified burn boss to write the burn plan and direct the burn, but we staffed the burns entirely with volunteers, including volunteer fire department members, landowners, and other interested community members. This model of burning — where the landowners take the lead — is truly an exciting and novel development in California, and I believe it is the critical ingredient to burning at a meaningful scale.

Fire practitioner lighting a fire with the Pacific Ocean in the backgroun

“This model of burning — where the landowners take the lead — is truly an exciting and novel development in California, and I believe it is the critical ingredient to burning at a meaningful scale.” Credit: Lenya Quinn-Davidson, Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network


Posted on Friday, December 8, 2017 at 10:30 AM
  • Author: Lenya Quinn-Davidson

Science Tuesday: Going Nuclear

Reposted from the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network

On Labor Day weekend, my friends and I canceled a vacation rental on the Trinity River because of the heat and smoke. It was predicted to be 112 degrees inland that weekend, and we figured we'd be crazy to subject ourselves (and our posse of toddlers) to that when we could stay on the coast and enjoy fresh air and cool temperatures. Smart, right?

Screenshot of temperatures near Eureka during Labor Day weekend. Eureka was 102; further inland, temperatures ranged from 67 to 76.

Credit: Jason Barnes

Saturday morning, we made breakfast at my friend's house and watched the temperature climb. By 10 a.m., it was over 80 degrees, and by noon, it was nearing 100 — unbelievably hot for our foggy redwood coast. And on top of the heat, it was the smokiest I've ever seen it here. Turns out, we hadn't escaped the heat or the smoke.

But here's the weird thing: the inland areas, which were predicted to be unusually hot that weekend, were actually cooler than the coast. My husband, who was working on the Eclipse Complex in the Klamath Mountains — in the heart of the projected heat wave — experienced a high in the low 80s that weekend. Meanwhile, we were grappling with almost unprecedented heat here by the ocean. To have a double-digit difference in temperature between the inland areas and the coast is the norm here, but the coast is never the hotter of the two.

The odd temperature patterns that weekend reminded me of an old paper I read years ago — something about the cooling effects of forest fire smoke, and the potential to use wildfires to better understand the potential impacts of “nuclear winter.” An odd topic, but intriguing, too.

Interestingly, in looking back at the paper, I realized that it was based on data collected in the Klamath Mountains exactly thirty years before this year's hot, smoky Labor Day weekend. The author, Alan Robock, analyzed surface temperature data from weather stations across northern California and southern Oregon, and he found that smoke from nearby wildfires had significant cooling effects in the Klamath River canyon in September of 1987 — temperatures were more than 27 degrees below normal for an entire week and more than 9 degrees cooler than normal for most of the month. During that time, the combination of an inversion and wildfire smoke created a positive feedback loop: smoke trapped by the inversion cooled the surface air temperature, which strengthened the inversion and trapped even more smoke. Of course, the smoke did more than cool the air that month; Robock notes that it also caused severe respiratory problems for people who were living in that area, and even caused tomato plants to shrivel up and die.

Wildfire smoke inversion occurring on the horizon; temperature inversions trap smoke

Inversions are common in areas with complex topography, like the Klamath Mountains. Here's an inversion during a prescribed burn in the Klamath River canyon (Northern California Training Exchange, 2013). Credit: Lenya Quinn-Davidson

More recent studies show other important effects of temperature inversions. Earlier this year, Becky Estes and others published a paper in Ecosphere that looked at the factors influencing fire severity in the Klamath Mountains in 2006 — a year that had moderate burning conditions and is thus representative of years when wildfires might be managed for resource benefit. Of all the weather variables they looked at, temperature inversions had the strongest influence on fire severity that year. Earlier work by Miller et al. (2012) had noted similar patterns, including more surface fire and less crowning under inversions. 1987 and 2008, two of the biggest fire years in our region in the last several decades, had lower than average fire severities thanks to widespread temperature inversions.

Collectively, these studies reveal interesting tensions between humans and fire — not just here in the Klamath Mountains, but everywhere. In some ways, the inversions and smoke are producing conditions we want to see on the ground: lower fire intensities, cooler temperatures, etc. But these can come at the cost of unlivable air quality (not to mention stunted vegetables and wine that tastes like smoke!). And this isn't just about inversions — it's really about us finding ways to live in the crossfire of the natural checks and balances of these systems. We know that we need more fire, and that we need to take advantage of moderate burning conditions, even if that means more smoke. We just need to find good ways to do it — that's what fire adaptation is all about. (Also, I'd be lying if I said Robock's thoughts on nuclear winter didn't seem a little more relevant now than they did last time I read that paper … might be worth revisiting!)


Estes, B. L., Knapp, E. E., Skinner, C. N., Miller, J. D., & Preisler, H. K. (2017). Factors Influencing Fire Severity Under Moderate Burning Conditions in the Klamath Mountains, Northern California, USAEcosphere8(5).

Miller, J. D., Skinner, C. N., Safford, H. D., Knapp, E. E., & Ramirez, C. M. (2012). Trends and Causes of Severity, Size, and Number of Fires in Northwestern California, USA. Ecological Applications22(1), 184-203.

Robock, A. (1988). Enhancement of Surface Cooling Due to Forest Fire SmokeScience242, 911-913.

Posted on Friday, September 29, 2017 at 11:02 AM
  • Author: Lenya Quinn Davidson
Tags: cooling (1), inversions (1), prescribed fire (6), smoke (1), temperature (1)

Science Tuesday: Toasted Ticks

Reposted from the Fire Adapted Community Learning Network Blog

I'm sure many of you are familiar with the kids' book “Going on a Bear Hunt.” The family in the book is on an adventure that takes them through rough terrain: a swirling, whirling snowstorm; a deep, dark forest; thick, oozy mud; long, wavy grass; and a narrow, gloomy cave. For readers, the suspense builds toward the cave, where a bear awaits in the darkness. But as someone who's done a lot of fieldwork, it's actually the long, wavy grass that makes my skin crawl. What about ticks?!

Two kids playing in tall grass

Credit: Modification of photo by Thomas Kohler shared via Flickr Creative Commons

On Sunday, my son and I made a site visit to a nearby burn unit. As I talked with the property manager about the burn, my toddler ran through the tall grass happily yelling “swishy swashy, swishy swashy” (a line from the book), and it got me thinking — not only about ticks, but about the interactions between ticks and prescribed fire. Ticks have been getting a fair amount of attention in the media lately, and many of the stories are saying that 2017 is going to be a particularly bad year for ticks and tick-borne illnesses. And it's not just Lyme disease that people are concerned about; ticks can cause other health complications, including an allergy to meat products (one of my favorite fire scientists actually has this!). Given the emergence of these novel complications, and the increasing incidence of tick-related diseases in general, it seems more important than ever to understand and explore the various tools we have for reducing tick populations.

To me, it seems intuitive that prescribed fire would be an effective way to impact tick populations. (Have you ever put a tick on top of a woodstove? Toasted ticks don't fare too well!) But there are ecological interactions that can complicate the effectiveness of prescribed fire for tick reduction, and treatment and study design can also have a strong influence on these types of research projects. Thus, it is no surprise that results regarding the relationship between ticks and prescribed fire have been quite variable over the years.

Most studies agree that tick populations are reduced immediately after a prescribed burn. For example, a paper by Stafford et al. (1998) showed that two spring burns in Connecticut reduced nymphal abundance of the blacklegged tick (which causes Lyme disease) by 74 and 97 percent in units with moderate and severe fire effects, respectively. However, by fall of that same year, the abundance of adult blacklegged ticks was no different in the burned areas than in the controls. Similarly, prescribed burning in tallgrass prairies in Kansas significantly reduced the abundance of the lone star tick (which is responsible for the meat allergy issue I referenced above, in addition to other diseases). However, this decline was only during the year of the burn, with no effect in units burned on longer intervals (Cully 1999). These and other papers (e.g., Drew et al. 1985) make it clear that prescribed fire affects tick populations, but results are strongly correlated with the time since burn and with the severity of the burn.

Other research demonstrates the importance of larger ecological interactions in determining post-fire tick populations. A study by Allan (2009), which took place in oak-hickory forests in the Missouri Ozarks, found that only two years after a burn, tick densities were six times higher in burned areas than in controls. In that study, improved forage in the burned areas caused disproportionate usage by white-tailed deer, which are an important carrier of the lone star tick and likely reintroduced them in high numbers to the recently burned areas.

White-tailed buck in grassland

White-tailed deer are a common carrier of ticks and can reintroduce them to recently burned areas. Credit: Scott Bauer, U.S. Department of Agriculture shared via Flickr Creative Commons

As a whole, these studies don't offer much clarity on the utility of prescribed fire for reducing tick populations — the results are so variable! But a more recent paper in PLOS ONE (Gleim et al. 2014) helps navigate and explain some of the scientific tensions in this collective body of work, and offers a more encouraging and comprehensive perspective on prescribed fire and ticks.

In this study, the authors focused on long-term prescribed burning programs in Georgia and Florida, and they accounted for a number of site conditions, including the burn regimes surrounding each study area. The study included 21 different sites across the region and involved monthly tick sampling, trail camera monitoring of tick hosts, weather measurements and vegetation surveys. In these ways, it is one of the most robust studies of tick-fire interactions to date. And the results are encouraging!

Firefighter carrying a drip torch through a forest in Florida. The relationship between ticks and prescribed fire can be quite variable.

Whether or not a controlled burn reduces tick populations depends on several variables. Credit: Susan Blake, USDA Forest Service shared via Flickr Creative Commons

Gleim and her colleagues found that ticks were much more prevalent in unburned controls, and their modeling efforts showed that total tick counts were related to a number of variables, including the long-term use of burning, season, litter cover and tree density (2014). Of particular note is their finding that adjacent burn regimes (burned or unburned) had a significant effect on post-burn tick populations, both in numbers and species. This may explain some of the variance in past studies, and it highlights the importance of considering the larger landscape management context and the importance of edge effects when assessing the effectiveness of prescribed fire projects. We know this to be true in the invasive plant context (e.g., Berleman et al. 2016), but it also appears to be true for ticks.

But perhaps the most important finding in Gleim et al. is that the effective control of tick populations depends on the long-term use of prescribed fire. I appreciate this point because all too often, studies are based on a single prescribed fire treatment, even though we know that in many cases, it is the fire regime — and not just the individual burn — that we are trying to understand through our research.

In any case, I've decided that the unit my son and I visited on Sunday probably wouldn't be a great candidate for a tick-focused burn. It's only about three acres in size, probably hasn't been burned in 100 years and is surrounded by fields of tall grass. (Luckily, tick reduction is not the goal of that burn.) However, I think there is potential for a great new kids' book: “Going on a Tick Hunt,” complete with a section on the long-term benefits of prescribed fire!


Allan, B. F. (2009). Influence of Prescribed Burns on the Abundance of Amblyomma americanum (Acari: Ixodidae) in the Missouri OzarksJournal of Medical Entomology46(5), 1030-1036.

Berleman, S. A., K. N. Suding, D. L. Fry, J. W. Bartolome and S. L. Stephens (2016). Prescribed Fire Effects on Population Dynamics of an Annual GrasslandRangeland Ecology and Management69(6), 423-429.

Cully Jr, J. F. (1999). Lone Star Tick Abundance, Fire and Bison Grazing in Tallgrass PrairieJournal of Range Management, 139-144.

Drew, M. L., Samuel, W. M., Lukiwski, G. M., and Willman, J. N. (1985). An Evaluation of Burning for Control of Winter Ticks, Dermacentor albipictus, in Central AlbertaJournal of Wildlife Diseases21(3), 313-315.

Gleim, E. R., Conner, L. M., Berghaus, R. D., Levin, M. L., Zemtsova, G. E., & Yabsley, M. J. (2014). The Phenology of Ticks and the Effects of Long-Term Prescribed Burning on Tick Population Dynamics in Southwestern Georgia and Northwestern FloridaPLOS ONE9(11), e112174.

Stafford III, K. C., Ward, J. S., & Magnarelli, L. A. (1998). Impact of Controlled Burns on the Abundance of Ixodes scapularis (Acari: Ixodidae)Journal of Medical Entomology35(4), 510-513.

Posted on Wednesday, July 26, 2017 at 11:36 AM
  • Author: Lenya Quinn-Davidson

Lighting up a new path: the Women-in-Fire Rx Fire Training Exchange (WTREX)

Reposted from the UCANR Green Blog

Amanda Stamper, The Nature Conservancy's fire management officer in Oregon, gives instructions to a crew. Women hold only 7 in 100 wildland fire leadership roles.

On Monday, Oct. 17, participants will gather in northwestern California for the first-ever Women-in-Fire Prescribed Fire Training Exchange (WTREX). The 12-day hands-on prescribed fire training, modeled after similar TREX events that take place across the country, will include participants with a full range of fire qualifications—from beginners to seasoned professionals—and from a diversity of backgrounds, including federal and state agencies, non-governmental organizations, tribes, universities, and more.

Participants are traveling from 12 different states and four countries, and will include 38 women and six men. This event will transcend the usual TREX emphasis on cooperative burning and learning; it will explicitly recognize and reinforce the importance of female perspective and leadership in fire management, and provide a supportive environment for women and men to understand and elevate the need for diversity in fire management—not only in numbers, but also in approach.

Lenya Quinn-Davidson, UC Cooperative Extension advisor and director of the Northern California Prescribed Fire Council, is organizing the first-ever Women-in-Fire Prescribed Fire Training Exchange. Photo by Larry Luckham

WTREX participants will serve in qualified and trainee firefighting positions to implement prescribed burns throughout the region. They will complete pre- and post-fire monitoring, train with equipment, practice fireline leadership skills, and learn about local fire ecology and fire management. The training will take place in diverse forest and rangeland ecosystems across northwestern California, including open prairies, oak woodlands, mixed-conifer forests, and chaparral, and include field trips to areas burned in recent wildfires and to prescribed fire and fuels treatment project sites. It will also feature presentations by local scientists and land managers, and women who are leaders in various aspects of fire management.


WTREX participants will set prescribed burns, complete pre- and post-fire monitoring, train with equipment, practice fireline leadership skills, and learn about local fire ecology and fire management.

In recent years, there has been an increased effort to recruit women into fire, yet women still constitute a relatively small proportion of the workforce, filling only 10 percent of wildland fire positions and 7 in 100 leadership roles. Women often find the dominant fire management system to be dismissive of female perspectives and strengths, even as its increasing complexity requires fresh approaches and insights. The WTREX invites both women and men to explore the growing role of women in fire management, while conducting prescribed fire operations designed to advance their formal qualifications in wildland fire management and enhance their understanding of fire ecology and effects, communications and outreach, prescribed fire policy and planning, and more.

For WTREX updates, follow the hashtag #wtrex2016 on Twitter or the Facebook page of the Northern California Prescribed Fire Council. For more information on the council, visit www.norcalrxfirecouncil.org or contact Lenya Quinn-Davidson, UC Cooperative Extension advisor and fire council director, at nwcapfc@gmail.com.

This training is supported by Promoting Ecosystem Resiliency through Collaboration: Landscapes, Learning and Restoration, a cooperative agreement between The Nature Conservancy, USDA Forest Service and agencies of the Department of the Interior. For more information, contact Lynn Decker at ldecker@tnc.org or (801) 320-0524.

Posted on Friday, October 14, 2016 at 2:55 PM
  • Author: Lenya Quinn-Davidson
Tags: prescribed fire (6), training (1), women (1)

Partnership brings $2.6 million to North Coast to restore oak woodlands

Reposted from UCANR News

Evergreen conifers crowd out oak trees. Photo by Redwood National Park staff
A partnership of eight agencies and organizations, led by University of California Cooperative Extension, is bringing $2.6 million to Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity counties through the NRCS Regional Conservation Partnership Program. The grant will fund oak woodland restoration efforts on private lands over the next 5 years, providing much-needed resources to conserve and restore wildlife habitat.

The loss of oak woodlands in California's North Coast is a critical conservation concern because it is associated with losses of biodiversity and wildlife habitat, range values, cultural resources, and other oak-dependent ecosystem services. In the absence of natural disturbances like fire, conifers can outcompete deciduous oaks and eventually the oaks die. In recent years, the effects of conifer encroachment on oaks have become a focal point for UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, which has conducted important research on oak woodland conservation in Humboldt and Mendocino counties.

“UC ANR research has shown that conifer encroachment is threatening oak woodlands throughout the North Coast. This project is really exciting because it will give landowners the resources they need to restore their oak stands — resources that haven't been there in the past,” said Lenya Quinn-Davidson, UC ANR Cooperative Extension staff research associate, who led development of the project proposal.

Oak woodland restoration requires removing conifers from oak stands with prescribed fire or by cutting down the conifer trees.

“The North Coast Oak Woodland Conservation Project will provide technical guidance and resources for landowners who wish to restore or conserve their oak woodlands, and foster a strong alliance of organizations and agencies who can continue oak woodland conservation efforts into the future,” said Quinn-Davidson, who is based in Eureka.

For more information about the project or funds for oak conservation activities on private lands, contact Quinn-Davidson at lquinndavidson@ucanr.edu and (707) 445-7351.

The North Coast Oak Woodland Conservation Project was one of six projects in California selected for Regional Conservation Partnership Program funding. The funded projects focus on a range of issues, including bird habitat, climate change and forest health. The program, which is funding 84 projects totaling $220 million nationwide, is highly competitive, requiring strong partnerships that address critical conservation issues. 

"We are excited and energized by these new projects that bring together a diverse mix of partners to improve California's ecosystems and landscape," said Carlos Suarez, Natural Resources Conservation Service state conservationist.  "It is very powerful to be able to engage in partnerships that embrace both agricultural and environmental interests and perspectives—and find collaborative ways of making progress on critical issues."

Partners in the North Coast Oak Woodland Conservation Project include University of California Cooperative Extension, CAL FIRE, the Watershed Research and Training Center, the North Coast Regional Land Trust, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Mattole Restoration Council, Yager/Van Duzen Environmental Stewards, and the Mendocino County Resource Conservation District.

Posted on Wednesday, February 24, 2016 at 1:55 AM
  • Author: Pam Kan-Rice

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