We’re seeing some truly terrifying fires right now, including the Camp fire, which has claimed 44 lives and is now on record as the most dangerous fire in California’s history. It’s wiped towns off the map, caused widespread property and structural damage, and has caused thousands of lives to be forever changed. We have a duty to learn from our history, to look back with a critical eye and change our behavior based on what has and hasn’t worked. Suppressing fire has not worked. Treating our forests as infallible resources has not worked. It’s time to step up and take action, let the research dictate our path, and work our tails off to protect our planet, our forests, and ourselves.
Now, more than ever, it seems like politics is at the forefront of our society. Decisions are made every day that affect millions of people, and the only thing we can do to affect those decisions is vote for people who will decide to push for the things that we want. Now that I’m done soap-boxing, I think it’s been especially interesting to see how the political climate can affect the way environmental work gets done. There’s a surfeit of willing, dedicated people who would gladly spend every waking moment of their lives working to protect our planet. The problem is letting them do that while making enough money to have their basic needs met. This is the issue: getting politicians to value environmental work enough to budget for it. There have been a few moments in Michigan where it truly felt like our politicians listened to the needs of those doing environmental work in the state.
Earlier today I stumbled across a story about burning in Northern Michigan, from the Petoskey news. The story is from this past May, and in it they talk about the difficulty in burning with snow still on the ground. Climate change means that burning, an already seasonally-specific activity, is becoming much less predictable, and could soon face new weather-related challenges. If winter snaps directly into summer we’ll see far less of the cold and dry conditions we need for spring burning. If summer snaps directly into winter we’ll see less fall burning too. This could force us to do more growing season burning, which can be beneficial but is much more difficult to plan and execute than traditional spring/fall burning. Growing season burns are less broadly applicable as they have less of a benefit for prairies (since they’re too greened out to burn) and tend to be more useful for invasives management. There are ups and downs to this kind of burning, but in general it’s seen as being more difficult.
These are the sorts of conversations we’re going to start having: conversations where we come to grips with what our ecosystems will start to look like in the future, and how our management tactics are going to shift to accommodate those changes. Maybe, in the warmer future, burning season will be a year-round affair. Maybe it’ll be so wet that burns can only happen every once in a blue moon. Or maybe, we’ll start working against climate change, stabilize our CO2 output, and burn season will look like it always has. But that’s probably my obscene optimism clouding my vision.
How do public outreach projects affect public perception of environmental resource management? Are there more effective ways to draw public attention to their role in preserving our natural resources? In this article we explore some of the characters created to engage the public on issues of ecological restoration and preservation.
I’ve been coughing more lately, and I’ve heard it’s related to the wildfires out west. Reducing the size of wildfires is not only good for wildlife, but for humans! Reducing the amount of smoke in the air is good in just about every way, and this article dives into some of the ins and outs of reducing smoke.
As someone who works in prescribed fire, I always have my ear to the ground as far as public perception of burning goes. It’s an important factor: knowing how to manage PR before, during, and after a fire can drastically affect the public’s interest in burning, their willingness to allow burning to occur, and can even end up affecting a burn program’s very existence. People are as intrigued as they are scared by fire, and it can often be difficult to convince those who don’t understand prescribed fire of it’s importance in ecological restoration work. When they first learn that we’re intentionally starting fires, they can be concerned, fearful, and occasionally will get very angry. With all the mis-information on the internet, it is frustratingly easy for people to read one phony article and immediately become enraged with Rx burns.
Luckily, more people are becoming properly informed rather than misinformed about fire. Every week I see new initiatives to spread the use of fire in the west, new public classes on prescribed fire, and tons of articles simply and effectively explaining why we light fires to fight fires. A shift is happening, undoubtedly spurred by the increase in wildfire frequency and intensity, and it marks a turning point for the public’s perception of Rx burning. Even a decade ago, a burn boss I’m friends with told me she was told by some of her higher ups to stop burning, citing concern about the potential negative impacts. In the years since, she’s seen more burns than ever before on the installation she manages, to great effect. With more evidence of the positive impacts of burning comes more desire and impetus to burn. Awareness truly is the most powerful tool we have to spread fire far and wide.
It’s still an uphill battle. Funding for natural resources management programs are slashed every day. Fires still rage in the west and across the globe. Many people still fully subscribe to Smokey the Bear’s zero tolerance policy on fire. But there’s a shift happening. Slowly and steadily, people in America, Australia, Greece, Sweden, everywhere, are beginning to realize that land management is about more than maintaining pristine environments free from disturbance. Sometimes you need nature to be what it is: messy, violent, uncontrollable, beautiful. Burning is an integral piece of nature that must be preserved and help up with everything we have. It’s truly exciting to see the public at large finally start to understand that.
When I was a kid, I never thought about the fact that my mom always did the housework while my dad worked. I accepted it, I didn’t ever wonder why my mom wasn’t expected to understand plumbing or carpentry, why my dad could get by without understanding how to make lasagna. These expectations of men and women are so deeply ingrained in our society that it takes a deliberate eye, and usually an outside force, to see them. For me that was my mom sitting me down and explaining how much work she does around the house, making me aware of all the time she spent dusting and cleaning and organizing. Once she made me aware, it was impossible to flip the switch back into ignorance. I could see the set of expectations set before her, those placed in front of my father, those given to a 15 year-old (my age at the time), even the things we expected of our dog. It took time for me to understand just how deeply these expectations run, and how much they can affect our choices and our belief in our own abilities.
I was brought into the fire world by a woman, so you could say my views on fire have been upended from the start, and absolutely for the better. The fact is that working in fire has always been seen as a man’s job. The fact is that some 90% of firefighters are men. The fact is that women have and continue to experience huge, disgusting sexism in this field. These are the facts that accompany one harsh reality present in almost all forms of our society: the reality that women aren’t treated the same as men. Especially in physically demanding fields, women aren’t even considered as contenders. They’re seen as inferior, physically incapable, and mentally fragile.
The reality is quite the opposite. Women are immensely capable mental warriors who do more work with less support in almost every field. They deal with terrifying levels sexism in every facet of their lives, and yet are able to perform at unimaginable levels. Women in fire are tough, quick, brave, careful, and (most importantly) able to multitask like no man I know can.
Below is a video by REI about women in fire. I ask that you think about the women in your organization, in your life, and the fact that wherever they are, they are most likely experiencing a large degree of difficulty because of sexist policies, procedures, and people. I ask that you lift these women up, recognize their struggle, and do everything you can to help them. Recognize that they have to work twice as hard, do twice as much, be twice as good just to be recognized as adequate. Talk to them, listen to them, help them. Especially in fire, we need all the help we can get right now. Listening to and working with the women in our organizations will help us be more effective as teams, and will give voice to a wealth of new information and collaboration. Listen to the women you work with!!!
A new bill was just passed by California's senate allocating $1 billion over the next five years for fire prevention. The bill makes it easier for private landowners to utilize prescribed burning on their properties, and increases the amount of timber they can harvest. Actively managing their historically neglected forests is a huge step for California, but is it enough?
We talk a lot about prescribed burning on this site. We even explain it in more than a few different ways. But I still think it's important for us to make sure you guys understand burning as well as you can, especially if you're interested in starting to burn yourselves. This week's post is simply a link to a fact sheet made by the Indiana DNR, all about prescribed fire. It's an excellent rundown of the benefits, dangers, and realities of burning, and I would venture to say it could be a great impetus to help someone who wants to burn become someone who burns.
Give it a look! Let us know in the comments what you think about this article. Was it helpful? Confusing? We're always happy to hear from all you burners out there.
The Mendocino complex is currently burning approximately .4% of the land mass of the entire state of California. While this is a terrifying number, it's important for us to be able to look at it objectively and try to learn as much as we can from it. How can we work to prevent these kinds of things from happening in the future? How can we allow fire to be a part of the landscape while keeping people safe?
It's been all over the news lately: these huge fires in the west that stay in the cultural consciousness just long enough for the next massive fire to erupt. It's troubling to see a near-unending stream of impossible-to-contain blazes arise seemingly out of nowhere. Unfortunately, those of us with a background in the environment understand that these fires aren't coming out of nowhere. These fires are undoubtedly the result of the warmer and drier conditions caused by global climate change. It's frustrating to see a back-and-forth in the news, between people working in and studying fire in California, and those in the President's administration. A meteorologist will say there is an "undeniable link to climate change", and the next week the Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, claims that "This has nothing to do with climate change. This has to do with active forest management."
He certainly has a point, but it's a woefully ignorant bait-and-switch. As a result of the Smokey the Bear campaign, fire all but disappeared from many of the fire-dependent ecosystems in the west. For decades, zero tolerance on fires meant no prescribed burning, no real way to reduce fuel loads, no other large scale method of actively managing these fire-dependent forests. While actively managing these forests with prescribed fire would have meant these fires would have been far easier to manage, it truthfully wouldn't have done enough to make the frequency of fires we're seeing now any lower. That is solely the result of increasing temperatures, which whisk away moisture and make it far easier for fuels to ignite.
We've seen the impacts all across the world. Greece had the biggest fire Europe has seen in a century, which killed 74 people. Sweden had to request international assistance to control their fires. British Colombia had to call in hundreds of firefighters from around the world to assist in their hundreds of current wildfires. In Australia, bushfires are increasing in number and intensity. No matter where you go, you'll see the effects of climate change, and their undeniable impact on the presence of wildfires.
So what can we do? It's a massively intimidating question since we rarely see any individual work done to prevent wildfires, since everything is done through government agencies staffed by well-trained firefighters. While anyone without training should absolutely stay off the fireline, it doesn't mean you can't help spread awareness about prescribed fire as a prevention tactic, or simply about the relationship between climate change and wildfires. Increasing public awareness of climate change, as well as public understanding of the positive impacts of burning, means more people will favor active steps being taken to prevent wildfires. People supporting things like prescribed fire means (ideally) that our elected representatives will also support more methods of forest management, which will give them more funding and therefore make these methods more impactful.
We as individuals can also begin to implement prescribed burning on our properties, as a way to protect our own property as well as surrounding properties from wildfires. We can work to ensure our homes have buffers around them, spaces where nothing could possibly ignite and carry (or radiate) fire to our homes. We can be vocal about our acknowledgement of climate change, and adamant in our actions to prevent further wildfires. We can remind people to check their local fire weather before burning brush piles, help neighbors make their properties fire-ready, and keep our families prepared in case a wildfire does ever make it to our homes. There are many things we can do! We just have to start doing.
Great article on forestry and fire. It's hard to properly plan and organize an ecosystem as complex as a forest, especially given our consistently limited knowledge about fire and how to properly implement it. It's both frustrating and heartening to see so many places around the US finally working to get fire on the ground again, after decades of "no burn" policies implemented by the US government. Read away!
Very interesting article about fuel reduction in the west, and the need for more prescribed burning. One of the more interesting parts of this article is near the bottom: a graph showing mechanical treatments vs prescribed fire, and the occurrence of wildfires and the amount of undisturbed historically burned land. Interestingly, significantly more burning is done in the Southeastern US than in any other region! My guess is it has to do with their burn season being almost unlimited (since they can burn straight through the winter). If the rest of the southern US shares that climate, why isn't the southwest burning through the winter too? Perhaps something to look in to!
Check out this awesome article about how CalFire intends to triple the amount of prescribed fire on the ground, in response to an executive order from California Governor Jerry Brown. Sounds like California knows what kinds of tactics work for wildfire management!
The wildfire in Florida last month that was started by a prescribed fire has ignited a fresh debate over the use of ecological burning in today’s world. The article might just scratch the surface, but it’s a reminder of the importance of explaining, clearly and concisely, what prescribed burning is all about.
Every now and then, the tech sector cranks out something that proliferates so deeply into mainstream culture, it eventually sneaks into every area of our lives. Though these pieces of technology might trouble us just as much as they delight us, there's no denying the excitement they cause, the rush of seeing and interacting with something brand new. Recently something new has stepped into the tech limelight, inhabiting the space once held by camcorders and laptops: DRONES.