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How do Permies feel about “prescribed burns”?

 
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Looking at the mountain in front of me and seeing the tall stacks of smoke. I’m thinking “I thought fire season was over, ooo right…prescribed burn season..  we’re under 2ft of snow so what is happening to the plants, seeds, temperature, and ground in the forest during “controlled burns”? Are we really helping out? I understand all the benefits of fire in the forest but there are enough already in the summer. Does it affect the dormant plants? Doesn’t the forest need all this undergrowth to protect the soil from the drought we’re going through? Anyway just curious to find out what your thoughts are..
 
pollinator
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Fire where it is natural is necessary. Modern humans always try to stop any natural fires because they are inconvenient so we need to set our own fires when they are convenient. If you don't do controlled burns then you can get massive fires that cannot be controlled when the forest eventually burns.
On open moorland burning helps keep the habitat as it is, It's not "natural" per se, but it is a managed landscape and if we wish to keep the wildlife that is there at the moment then we need to continue managing the landscape in the same way it has been done for centuries.
Undergrowth won't protect from drought the more plants the more water will be used, in a forest the trees are already providing shade.

In areas where fire is natural the flora and fauna have evolved to live with it, some things even require it to reproduce. The idea of a controlled burn is it is fast, and won't heat the soil much so dormant plants and seeds can survive. Letting the fuel build up and then burn in one go does a lot more damage that regular small fires.
 
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Matt said "Burning is not going to be a good control for most perennial invasives, especially in winter dormancy. They’ll just grow back in the spring because burning won’t have any effect on the resources they have stored underground



https://permies.com/t/171343/Prairie-burning-winter#1345366

I also do not believe controlled burns are effective. We have never done a controlled burn because of our wildlife.  This would destroy a lot of their habitat, food sources, etc
 
pollinator
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I'd echo Skandi on this one. If you live in an environment that has evolved with fire, then its occurrence is not a matter of if but when. Prescribed burning is the easiest approach and is more sympathetic to the ecosystem than manual clearing and thinning, and it leaves behind a bonus of pyrogenic carbon to enrich the soil.

That's right, fires create biochar. Globally, landscape fires turn about 1/8 of the carbon they consume into stable char that stays in the soil and does all the good things that permies appreciate.

If (and this is the big one, because some sites are just not safe to burn) you can do frequent cool and quick burns in a mosaic pattern, the benefits to the land will far outweigh the short-term downsides. Most of all, your land won't be subject to the conditions that feed big out-of-control infernos. You won't be the rural homeowner whose overgrown section started the blaze, and if a fire comes up on adjacent wildlands it's more likely to run out of fuels when it reaches yours.

But there are plenty of good reasons why some people can't do this, and if that's you then you just have to be that much more diligent with clearing, thinning, maintaining firebreaks, and having a sufficient supply of water on hand. Try to get your neighbours on board with what you're doing, because even if your place is tended well, you could still lose mature trees and structures in a crown fire thanks to slack management adjacent to you.

My sister's place in SE Arizona is in oak savanna, and that is a natural tinderbox. The natural fire cycle there would see the tall dry grass burn almost every summer in the first part of the monsoon. This worked like a charm to knock back the thorny mimosa and mesquite and leave a fine layer of ash to really get the grass and herb cover going when the rains came in earnest. Most of the oaks resprout from stumps and by September they're big balls of green.

The problems got big when the ranches got subdivided into 5 and 10 acres pony plots and the city folk who bought them didn't mow the grass after it dried out in spring. They had a big fire race through the area a few summers ago and the fire dept used my sister's land as their "last stand" to set a backfire line to keep the main blaze out of the more densely wooded national forest land behind them. They were very complimentary of the state of the place and said that without a break like that they would have had to give up.

A few months later I visited and my brother-in-law took me on a sightseeeing drive around the hood. Places that had been kept mown or grazed were intact, and the ones that had let brush grow up were basically just stumps and foundations.
 
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I think prescribed burns are a good thing in certain circumstances. Fire is an essential part of preserving & restoring the particular type of forest I live in. A longleaf pine forest. It was once the predominate tree species in this part of the country. Until it was exploited almost to extinction. The gopher tortoise is a threatened species too. It's a keystone species that about 300 other species depend on. We have many of them here. Here's a couple of pix from a burn we did tonight. It's a very special place with all sorts of wildlife. Strange as it might seem we periodically burn it to take care of it. Not all at once & of course with much planning & caution.

https://longleafalliance.org/what-is-longleaf/restoration-management/

https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/national/plantsanimals/fishwildlife/?cid=STELPRDB1047006

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Controlled burns are a good idea.

However in Nevada, the government is in charge of these on BLM lands -- they always get out of hand to one degree or another.

Then it seems we only have a single helicopter and volunteers to handle it.

So for us, we dread "burn season".
 
pollinator
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Around here, they usually burn off pine thickets.  They changed the word “controlled” to “prescribed” because they got out of hand so often.  I understand the need to burn off, especially early succession conifer forests that generate a ton of kindling.  The mature hardwood forests do not seem to produce nearly the small diameter debris buildup.  So to some degree we are correcting a situation the we created by clearcut logging (usually).  The new growth does benefit some wildlife, especially species we like to hunt, but there is little mention of those that don’t make it out.  There is little energy around manually clearing out underbrush with volunteers.  I don’t think they always start fires with the best weather forecast, and I have witnessed forest workers starting a burn, then leaving the area while there were still hot embers etc.
 
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When Nature does a burn it's rare to have it happen more than once in 50-100 years.    On the West Coast of the US and Australia, where it only rains a little during 3 or 4 months of the year, lightning-strike fires are common, and it's still only 50-100 years in the same place.

Humans want everything right this second with the least amount of effort and the least expense so they try to justify it by saying there's a benefit.  Just because some plants branch out again, doesn't mean critters haven't been decimated.   Fire used even every 5 or 10 years doesn't give the ecological balance insects, flora, fauna, and soil need to return to a natural, functioning balance.   There's always a few "prescribed" burns that get out of control and cause way more damage.

Some humans think Nature looks "messy."  Permaculture has gone a long ways towards dispelling this myth.  

Other than the big obvious plants/trees that burn, that are food and habitat for birds, animals and insects, here are just a few of the hard workers of that ecological balance who are killed and lose habitat (canopy layers, shrub layers,) so they disappear and things are out of balance, plants and soil are not healthy :

Fungi, Bats, Beetles, Ground Bees, Honey bees, Bumble bees, Hornets and Wasps (that clean up dead critters,) Ants (that clean up dead critters,) predator bird habitat (hawks, turkey vultures, falcons, etc.),  songbirds nesting in grasses,  spiders, roaches, pillbugs, sowbugs, praying mantis, walking sticks, millipedes, centipedes, moths, butterflies....and the list goes on and on.
 
pollinator
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Very much in favor. Anyone who is against burning the forests of the Sierra Nevada is willfully ignoring science, history and common sense, in my opinion.

 
pollinator
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Anne Miller wrote:

Matt said "Burning is not going to be a good control for most perennial invasives, especially in winter dormancy. They’ll just grow back in the spring because burning won’t have any effect on the resources they have stored underground



https://permies.com/t/171343/Prairie-burning-winter#1345366

I also do not believe controlled burns are effective. We have never done a controlled burn because of our wildlife.  This would destroy a lot of their habitat, food sources, etc



It may seem counterintuitive, but in addition to more forests wildlife need more frequent fires. Many more vertebrates thrive in PNW and CA forests that have had “healthy burns”, like those conducted on millions of acres per year historically by native peoples up and down the west coast of North America. In addition to these prescribed burns’ preventing catastrophic canopy fires, these cultures were acting on knowledge of the habitat and hunting value of burnt snags, which for most vertebrates is greater than living trees (of course we need lots of big living trees to eventually get those snags). This is well documented in ecological research, and observable on a hike through such places. The burn frequency by native peoples (30-50yrs often) also has  a similar rhythm to hazelnut orchard coppicing/replanting, and this is one of the understory species that need these fires to continue producing. Oaks and huckleberries also need fire to reproduce, by which they provide us produce.

I see a parallel between prescribed burns effect on the forest as a whole with biochar’s immense surface area, or edge, which is a habitat for immense diversity and quantity of life. A low intensity burn creates an immense amount of edge while  preserving the large trees that are the main pillars holding it all up.

If we want to get more big trees, then we need to manage the unprecedented amount of small and unhealthy trees we have as a result of old growth logging removing 96%+. At least 90% of tree seedlings die before they reach 100yrs old, and many of our large conifers need to be 300yrs old to be sexually mature and to develop the biomass, water holding capacity,  and  thick  bark that makes them so fore resistant. So we have at least 200yrs of management to do on millions of acres. I am all for a great mulching and hugeling to build soil and reduce the smoke created by thinning, but native burning practices seem to be proven and efficient where the land is still similar enough to where and when those practices evolved. In many cases its burn it lightly now, or watch it explode later.
 
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An awful lot depends on the reason for the prescribed burning.  And it's all intensely location-specific; what's true in the canyon may not be true up on the ridgetop, much less in the next river valley over.  By the time we get to generalizing about chunks of the country that encompass multiple states, it's hard to say anything that's going to be usefully true.  

I do remember getting in a long (but Permies-polite) wrangle some years back with quite a few people who advocated burning their entire properties every winter to "knock back the ticks".  Putting aside how well it does or doesn't work, it seems to me that doing that much damage to one invertebrate is likely to damage hundreds of other species important to soil life and local ecosystem health.   Mimicking wildfire patterns under semi-controlled circumstances in places that we can't allow random wildfires is one thing, and probably the easiest to justify, if not so easy to safely accomplish. Increasing burn frequency to reduce burn intensity is going to have both positive and negative ecological effects that are hard to weigh, and the answer will end up depending on which ecosystem services we value more.  But pushing that knob all the way over to "every year I wander around my property lighting shit on fire with a flamethrower" is always, it seems to me, going to have substantial consequences that are comparable to (albeit different from) heavy mechanical mowing and/or regular herbicide/pesticide use.  

Fire, in the end, is just another landscape management tool.  It can be used for foolishness and destruction, or it can (we hope) be used to nudge a package of ecosystem services in a desired direction at an acceptable cost in a specific location.  I'm generally a bit skeptical of our ability to use this tool wisely, but in some places the consequences of not using it at all are wildly catastrophic.  Should we even be living in those places?  A fair question, but that ship has sailed and would be hard to call back.  Bottom line, for me, is that I think we probably need some deliberate fire on the landscape, but not a whole lot, and because I doubt our ability to make wise choices about it, I'm always looking for alternatives.
 
Ben Zumeta
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I’d agree about finding alternatives where possible, as prescribed burns have never been so difficult to control as now due to all the unhealthy regrowth tinder.

I’d endorse large public and private investments in getting as much unhealthy and dead wood under 1ft diameter on or in the ground. As Paul mentioned in his fire podcast, logging equipment like feller bunchers etc can do this quite quickly. It all has to get to 1ft length or less to have ground contact, where it will stay moist and be inoculated with fire retardant fungi. This will help the soil hold moisture and make the remaining largest trees healthier and more fire resistant. I’d follow the general rule of 1/3, and take no more than that biomass off any given site. Where appropriate, mulch and build hugels for restoration sites nearby first, then get it to the nearest farm/garden/landscaper who could use it. I’d bring in prescribed fire where this is unfeasible, and it would only be done on ecology based timeframes between 10-200yrs.
 
pollinator
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As Dan Boone said, it's a management tool.  We humans have this weird hangup that more = better, but we know through experience that isn't the case.  Planting 100 carrots/square foot doesn't increase yields, and  letting our pear tree run wild can do more harm than good.  We view "prescribed burns" with suspicion because we assume people don't know what they're doing.   But they've been doing it far longer than any form of agriculture.  

Prescribed fire looks dramatic because for the past 100 years we haven't done it.  Deep carbon-rich prairie soils of the midwest are the product of routine fire.  For the 20,000+ years before that, occasional fire was an essential feature of many ecosystems.  Plants, fungi, and critters adapted to those conditions.  

I'm sure there's some localized loss of insects and fungi- but insects and fungi rebound pretty quickly, and in most cases the gains outweigh the losses. If an important feature of permaculture is maintaining or increasing the biodiversity of agricultural ecosystems...prescribed burning accomplishes exactly that without a lot of time, or labor, or machinery, or chemicals.  
 
Mike Barkley
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Remember 7 or 8 years ago when half of Texas was on fire? I do because I lived near the starting point. It was some scary stuff. Thousands of houses burned & who knows how many acres. Possibly millions. All due to severe drought & too much dry fuel on the ground. Once the fire started of natural causes it moved into the tree canopies which caused extreme heat & then sent burning embers hundreds of feet into the air. Which drifted for miles & started new fires. Didn't take long for it to be completely out of control.

I experienced a similar thing in Sevierville, TN a few years ago when some teens playing with matches started a fire in the Smokey Mountains. That destroyed a huge part of the city & the surrounding mountains almost overnight.

Besides being beneficial to our forest another reason we do controlled burns here is to minimize damage from wildfires. We have 2 certified burn managers. Both are usually present during burns. One works for the US Forestry department & is an official firefighter. We also get advice from the US Fish & Wildlife Service, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, & a forestry consultant from the state university. We have a fire truck, several ATVs equipped with water, heavy equipment if needed, & a volunteer fire dept location on site. We don't just light 'er up haphazardly or for no good reason. It's not about quick & easy profit either. These trees take 100's of years to reach maturity. It's all about conservation of the trees, the wildlife, & the environment. We generally only harvest what we can salvage after major hurricanes destroy some of the trees.

I'm sure we lose a few insects but I've never seen a burned larger critter. Not one. I go through every area after every fire to inspect everything. If larger animals were being killed I'd know about it. We make a lot of noise checking & clearing firebreaks a day or two before each burn. Then we make more noise immediately before each burn when we check the perimeter one more time. Then we start with a slow backing burn that moves upwind. That gives any remaining animals plenty of time to escape. Except maybe a few slow moving insects. I'm a beekeeper & wildflower spreader so in sheer numbers I help make up for any insects that are lost.

About 2 weeks after a burn the native grasses reappear & is a brilliant green. Wanted to take a picture today to show that but it got dark before I could. Maybe tomorrow. As fun as that would be I haven't used a flamethrower since the military. A drip torch is a better tool for this particular task anyway. Part of what we burned today was a very invasive grass called cogon. It is allelopathic & inhibits everything in it's path. It burns very hot & fast & is an extreme wildfire risk. The flames in these pix are roughly 25 feet tall. Just imagine if that was allowed to accumulate for many years. As it is now ... all these baby pine trees will grow up to be wonderful trees someday.
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pollinator
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The situation we had in Sweden back in 2018 is a good illustration of why "a little fire, frequently" is a very good thing in certain ecosystems. The summer of -18 was the dryest on record, and obviously a bunch of wildfires started. Now, the problem is this: Most of the Swedish "forest" is not really forest (except if your definition of "forest" is "ground with a bunch of trees on") but rather a pretty nasty mosaic of pine and spruce monocultures of varying age. I say varying age, but more correctly I could say "varying degrees of youthfulness" since the forestry industry, due to the paradigm of "maximum profit now", have long pushed for a lowering of the lowest legal age to cut said monocultures.

Of course, the Industry is also not fond of wildfires. Why would they? Most of the wood they sell is used for pulp, so they don't much care about the quality of the wood, and if some of it burns it reduces the profit. That, combined with the concern to protect buildings and infrastructure, means that the official standpoint (other than in some nature reserves and such) is that fire=baaaad. So bad that we have decently effective systems in place to put out every little fire before it ever has the chance to spread anywhere or touch any meaningful part of the "forest".

Now, enter the drought of 2018. Fires started, and due to very dry conditions spread like, well, wildfire. Since the monocultures have never burned, and are all of one age, there is way more fuel within reach of the flames than in a mature pine forest, where the trunks are pretty much fireproof and most of the branches are somewhere way up there. As a result, the fires of -18 were freakishly intense. Sweden asked for, and recieved, help from other european countries. As I recall, there were firefighters coming in from Poland, and water-dumping planes were borrowed from Italy. The situation was considered (and was indeed) dire.

So, when all was said and done, how much of the Swedish forest burned that year? If my memory serves - about 0.2%. Of course, without the efforts to stop it, it would likely have been more. But here's the thing: the fraction of the Swedish forest that used to burn every year before humans started to control wildfires is way bigger. If I remember correctly, it was somewhere around 1-2% on average. Ten times more, without declaring national disaster alert, without calling in emergency help from the rest of Europe.

Of course, the explanation is that the "natural" wildfires were way less intense (on average) and also mainly touched the types of forest adapted to them, in this case the pine forests in the dry parts  of the landscape. Because of decades of firefighting, these forests (even the few that are left standing) now have spruce growing in them, giving ample fuel to the flames.

On the note of possible damage to biodiversity, a lot of the organisms (most notably fungi, but also certain plants and insects) in fire adapted forests can not survive without periodic, low-intensity burns. My favorite example is Hydnellum gracilipes, a rare fungus only found growing on the ground under old, burnt pine logs and stumps, next to living pines (it forms mycorrhiza).
 
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I think prescribed burns are good in the right context.  Around me there is a terrible invasive, Japanese Honeysuckle that climbs up and kills native vegetation by starving it of light.  And JH grows like mad!  It even grows in winter!  But it is terribly vulnerable to fire.

Every few years plots of forested land around me get prescribed burns to clear the JH.  And after the fire has gone through, the difference is obvious, staying for several years—the JH is just gone, not returning until birds bring in new seeds.

For contrast, there is some National Wildlife Preserve land near me (there is actually quite a lot of public land from many different agencies in my area) that NEVER gets remotely touched by fire or any attempt at clearing invasive JH.  The local administrator just does not believe in taking any man-made efforts to change the landscape in any way.  The result has been the substantial death of native hardwood forests.

So while perhaps not perfect, I have seen prescribed burns really clear up some nasty infestations of a terrible local invasive.

Eric
 
pollinator
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I enjoyed listening to this pod cast on the topic a while back.

How to Save a Planet: FIghting Fire with Fire

It talks a bit about the ecosystems and the impact of various fire control approaches. It also talks about the human/cultural baggage that gets in the way of managing these ecosystems. It helped me, as a UK resident, understand what the issues around this were for the USA.
 
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I'm just now reading "Tending the Wild" by M. Kat Anderson about how the natives in California managed the state. Mostly that meant burning. And that made the state into an amazingly productive, beautiful area full of wildlife and useful plants. Without fire it's become way more flammable. So the job is way more difficult. Not sure how to start the process up again since the slightest spark would light the whole state on fire. Definitely a necessity unless people like The Big One.
 
pollinator
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My land needs a lot of fuels reduction. It's difficult to do a prescribed burn around here, mostly people do burn piles. BLM around me does nothing. I'm utilizing many techniques for fuels reduction or a have plans to. Goats are going to be important for my property is removing highly flammable shrubs like buck bush and small scrubby oaks. Some debris will be used in hugels, some will be chipped for mulch. Last years heat dome killed a fair amount of trees adding to the issue, on my property primarily ponderosa pines that were already struggling with bark beetles, so those will be cut up for firewood.

South of my property burned two years ago, which is comforting at this point, not so much at the time.
 
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The podcast Michael Cox linked to brings up a lot of the issues creating resistance to better fire policies. There are definitely things needing changing both at the individual level, community level, legislation level, and whole country level.

Things not bluntly mentioned - the need to ban monoculture forests  and clear-cut harvesting practices. This alone would improve the health of our forests.

Also the need to change building codes to fit the local dangers, rather than a "one national code" or even "one provincial code" approach. Flooding's a risk - there's a code for that. Fire's a risk, there's a different code for that. By codes, I don't mean narrow-minded "build a ticky-tacky box like this" either, which tends to be what happens. But putting a cedar shake roof on in fire country has been shown for 50 years to be a *really bad idea*.

People might be less scared of a prescribed burn if they weren't worried that their house/community might end up in flames - that's short-sighted, because they're quite likely simply delaying a worse outcome.

Lastly, places they were indigenous, we need to reintroduce beavers. They will help us hold moisture on the land.
 
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All for it. Nature loves fire. Fire cleanses the understory of developed forests, it adds needed minerals back into the soil and creates space for air movement and healthier forests overall. Shenandoah National Park is a ticking time bomb.
 
pollinator
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Done right it’s a good thing. But seldom done right.

Take Midwest prairie burns. Done in the early spring when their own science says they should be done in the early fall to control invasives. But that isn’t convenient.

Fire is one of the few organic controls available for grazers.
 
pollinator
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In Central Wisconsin, we have prescribed fires too:
https://prescribedfire.org/
We cannot start fires any time we want. The greatest dangers for us are when the snow is gone and the grasses from the last season are still there. We are warned every year but there are accidental fires every year. [It is Wisconsin, so it usually doesn't spread very far, thank goodness!] We cannot burn, even in a trash barrel unless we have snow on the ground, or water handy, and we may not walk away at any time. Other times, we need to tell the Fire Chief ahead of time, and if the permit is denied, it is denied and we could get a visit to verify.
The only burns I do in in my raised beds, to get some of the weed seeds destroyed. So I do not have some wildlife to protect, but it just makes sense to be cautious. You have to have enough water handy to put out the fire you start. Not a bucket of water, mind you, but a hose, so it cannot be done when the water would freeze in the hose, of course. It is better done late in the fall, right before the first abundant snowfall of the season, or a serious rain event.
Last year, I wasn't feeling good, so I let it go. Now, I'm looking at some beds that will need a good going over with a torch. The beds are only 4'X8', so you would think that I could control that. but it is not a given: I laid a good thickness of dead leaves last fall. With the rains and the snows, they are mostly matted down now, but a burning leaf could take off and land elsewhere. I may call on one of the companies that does that for a living to do the burns for all my beds and be done with it. Better safe than sorry as the fines are huge, and the properties you could destroy are not just your own, exposing you to lawsuits.
I think I will opt to use my little hedge cutter, to remove the worst of it and burn in a barrel. Then I should be able to go over the beds that need it with a torch.
I don't know how you can manage in super dry areas but I do not envy your situation.
 
Mike Barkley
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Here's some before & after pix.

The one labeled baby pine is the same area (9 days later) as the baby pine pic in my previous post.

The ones labeled pitcher plant is a pitcher plant bog that was choked out by weeds, yaupon holly, & other scrubby stuff last year. Taken 5 weeks apart. Now the pitcher plants can thrive again. Which is good because they eat mosquitos & other biting bugs.

The other 2 pics are where we had a wildfire a month or two ago when a neighbor burned a stick pile on a very windy day. It jumped into our forest when nobody was home. Don't have any before pics of that because when we got home it was full speed ahead to get the fire department here & grab our own stuff to get it under control. Fast. Was way too close to the houses for comfort. The left side of one pic shows how scraggly it was before & the right side shows how clear & green it is now. That was an area we planned to burn anyway BUT we intended to be here when it started so it could be done safely. Too much drama but the adrenaline was fun:)



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gardener
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Where I live in N. California they backed off a lot of controlled burns, and have paid a massive price. So much devastating loss, of life and property the last couple of years.  2020 the burn season went through December.  December!
I very much believe in not interfering with mother Nature. The problem is we have already unbalanced the cycle. So we can't just say let nature take care of it, to much has been changed and interfered with already.
Lord knows I would rather not breath any more smoke, but if it means not loosing an entire forest, yeah I'm for controlled burns.
 
Phil Stevens
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@R Scott - The prairies would have burned whenever there was lightning and fuel. This can easily happen in spring when a warm spell melts the snow, dries things out, and then a front comes through with wind and thunderstorms. But the other thing that was a constant for the past 20-40,000 years was the presence of people who chose when and where to burn.

@Elena - We don't need thousand-year-old people to tell us what happened. We have a really good record in the form of carbon (basically biochar) deposited in soil every time fire goes through an area. And this record shows us how fire has been a recurring presence in landscapes for millions of years. Species that have coevolved with fire are resilient to its effects and many require it.

I highly recommend Stephen Pyne's Fire: A Brief History. We've got a weird and mostly broken relationship with fire as modern industrial humans and I think part of our journey is getting back to a more traditional view of it.
 
Cécile Stelzer Johnson
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A related question, and a better one, IMHO is: Would it be possible to make *small*, prescribed burns, but all the time?
It seems the fire devastation occurs when a lot of fuel has been accumulating for a long period of time. Change these parameters and the fires will be smaller and precious wildlife will be spared.
I do not know the feasibility of this because I don't like in a super dry area, but if only a couple of acres could be burned at one time, the wildlife would mostly have the time to get out of the way and life and property could be spared the devastating fires, biochar would get into the soil and the vegetation would remain rooted on the hills, the mud would stay put in a torrential rain...
Seems to me the trick is to make the burns small enough that they do not get out of hand but frequent enough that in 10-15 years, every parcel that needed burning could be burned safely. Do some 24-7, with tanks and hoses and firefighters, but only a tiny surface at one time.
Again, like I say, from afar, this is what seems logical. I know also that arid places can be plagued with winds that will mess up with those plans.
My husband was saying the other day: "Hasn't all of California burned? We keep hearing of so many fires burning thousands of acres, you'd think that everything is charred by now".
I know that California is vast, but it is hard to believe that with the number of fires, the state hasn't been reduced  to a cinder...
 
Mike Barkley
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but if only a couple of acres could be burned at one time, the wildlife would mostly have the time to get out of the way and life and property could be spared the devastating fires, biochar would get into the soil and the vegetation would remain rooted on the hills, the mud would stay put in a torrential rain...
Seems to me the trick is to make the burns small enough that they do not get out of hand but frequent enough that in 10-15 years, every parcel that needed burning could be burned safely. Do some 24-7, with tanks and hoses and firefighters, but only a tiny surface at one time.



Agreed. Here we basically determine which area needs attention the most. Then work it incrementally in small sections with quite a few years between burns for any given area. The result is preservation & conservation, not destruction.
 
Cécile Stelzer Johnson
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I was curious about the term "cheat grass" which we do not seem to have in Central Wisconsin, so I looked up:
Why do they call it cheat grass?
"It is not native but came from the grasslands of eastern Europe and Asia. It is called cheat grass because cattle think it is great food until it all of a sudden dries up in June (where I grew up we call it June grass). It eventually becomes inedible and can even pack up seeds under the tongues of livestock".

So it is an invasive, and after June, the palatability is poor for cattle: the stuff dries up and becomes a fire hazard.
Wild horses, because of the structure of their stomachs may poop seeds in their manure, which would make it very difficult to eradicate this invasive. This said, I really deplore the eradication of wild horses. Not because they are a noble animal but, (and I'm going to shock a few sensitive souls here):  they are an excellent source of protein to humans as well. Their meat is not marbled but it is delicious, very high quality and should be slightly underdone.
While I'm sure there are other fire hazards, this invasive grass perhaps should be burned to improve the quality of food for all these herbivores, if only the land allowed for better, longer lasting forage to be planted?
One of the links I opened in this post pointed to the possibility of multiplying herbivores [cattle and wild horses] who would then devour this grass, thus limiting the amount of fuel. Certainly such a solution looks very appealing, however here are a couple of problems I see:
* Multiplying herbivores may multiply predators as well, so a county might spend a lot of money facilitating the multiplication of wild herbivores only to see them perish constantly at the teeth of predators.
* The number of herbivores that can successfully breed and multiply depends on the quality and quantity of the forage available 365 days a year. If, as was indicated, this invasive grass loses its palatability in June, what would be available the rest of the year? That link indicated that very few foals make it to adulthood. Could predators but also forage be a problem?
* This grass may have found its own way to disseminate since it can pack seeds under the tongue of herbivores. The quote does not reveal if that impedes cattle and wild horses in their ability to eat or if dislodges, those seeds can plant themselves successfully elsewhere?
* To multiply the herbivore population, it seems that the invasive grass has to be removed *first*. On a large scale, this may be extremely difficult to achieve. Do the burns make it easier or harder for this grass to propagate? I don't know. Some seeds germinate better *after* a fire.
* As far as "fires have always happened naturally" being inaccurate, we have all seen videos of lightning strikes igniting fires, especially if you have a tinderbox of a vegetation. So it seems that as long as there have been lighting strikes, there has been a *possibility* for fires to start "spontaneously", without mankind 'helping'. The videos seem to be source enough that 'natural fires' can happen IMHO.
* Much more interesting is "How are most fires started out west"? This seems to be a much more elusive number to arrive at correctly:
"In California, 9% of wildfires are caused by arson, officials say." https://www.businessinsider.com/criminology-professor-charged-with-arson-in-california-forest-fire-2021-10. This comes from "Business Insider".

"Intentionally set fires account for 13 percent of all fires. Intentionally set fires also account for 10 percent of all fire deaths and 8 percent of all fire injuries". Says FEMA. but that is for all of the US.
and one last source:

What percentage of California wildfires are caused by humans?
"Most wildfires are human-caused (88% on average from 2016 to 2020), although the wildfires caused by lightning tend to be slightly larger and burn more acreage (55% of the average acreage burned from 2016 to 2020 was ignited by lightning).Oct 4, 2021". This one is from the Congressional Research Service: https://sgp.fas.org/crs/misc/IF10244.pdf

When you see such enormous discrepancies between the sources, it is hard to rely on any of them. It could be that they are computing using different metrics, like comparing the acreage that is caused by arson versus the number of fires set by arson?
If I may digress for a second: this is a pet peeve of mine: When a bad actor causes a damage so large that he/she cannot possibly indemnify victims properly, taxpayers are called on all too often to do it, and in the melee the bad actor gets to retain most of his/her wealth. But if we have arsonists and if they do cause that many fires, perhaps locking them up, taking all their money and property to compensate the victims is a proper and moral route to take as a society. Using all taxpayer monies to palliate this need in a way subsidizes arsonists, even if that is not the intent. Crush them, and crush their lives as they have crushed the lives of their victims.

In a tinderbox, it is hard to do proper "controlled fires", and I hate to see any animal or human suffer such pain and losses. It does not make the goal of reducing the number and extent of fires by doing prescribed burns wrong.
It just has to be done "better", "smarter".
I do not believe there are "alleged" humans causing all this, but there certainly are jerks in this world and we need to deal with them..


 
pollinator
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Not sure about everyone elses state resources, but our Missouri Conservation Department puts on a free training: "Prescribed burns for Missouri landowners."

I finished it a couple weeks ago. It was hybrid, online study and testing followed by an in-person field day burn. It was extraordinarily useful and informative. Much more strategy goes into it than one might think, regarding timing and strategies for desired outcomes and safety. I would highly suggest looking to see if your state offers anything like this. I will be doing controlled burns every 3 or so years to maintain and oak savanna.
 
gardener
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I always get a bit apprehensive during prescribed burn season.  What we need are paid nomadic foresters much like sheepherders, clearing the forests of ladder fuels and brush.  The name change a few years back from "controlled burn" to the now "prescribed burn"  probably came about from those cleansings that got away, and they do sometimes.
 
pollinator
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We need to harvest it or do controlled burns or it will burn anyway under less ideal conditions.  Take California.  They need somewhere between 4 million and 11 million acres of controlled burns just to maintain the fuel load.  If you build even 4 million acres of excess fuel load every year eventually it is going to catch up with you in the form of a really big hot destructive fire.
 
Posts: 38
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It really depends on the land and if it has always been part of natural occurrences for example lightning strikes.

Our original land owners in Australia have been practising 'cool burns' for over 60,000 years, not just anywhere but in certain areas where doing so saves environment. They were very observant and learned how to deal safely and have a great deal of environmental savvy when it comes to knowing when and where to burn and to never allow a fire to get too hot. Our eucalypts and wattles have a great deal of flammable oils and need special knowledge and timing to deal with the Aussie bush.

It is now recognised that we have a lot to learn from them and accordingly firefighters are gradually seeing this and changing the way we deal with fires here. There are probelms when lightning strikes hit in very remote areas of our bush not easy to reach, and out of control fires do a lot of damage in Australia when this happens as it did recently. It is even worse when fires are deliberately lit, a sad indictment of what some people do.

In Australia we have many plants that are totally dependent on fire to reproduce; grass trees, some wattles (acacia), and banksia to name a few could not reproduce without them.

Unfortunately as our development of land continues we will continue to have more issues as climate change accelerates fire occurrences and we need to think more on prevention instead of waiting until a fire has a hold before sending firies in to fight them. There is definitely a place for controlled 'cool' burns here.
 
Cécile Stelzer Johnson
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Thanks, Annette for your mention of "cool burning".
This is what I was trying to express in a previous post: many careful tiny fires as Australian Aborigines have been doing since... forever is better than holding off on the burning until there is so much fuel accumulated that there is no way to be "safe".
I looked up the definition and I came across this article which is interesting in that it says that small burns are also good for wildlife, which I wasn't so sure of, but it makes sense:
https://www.watarrkafoundation.org.au/blog/aboriginal-fire-management-what-is-cool-burning
the article mentions that Australia had gotten away from the practice but is going back to it after devastating fires there.
 
Dan Fish
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There is still some California left. There are burn scars everywhere though. Not the pretty, open, green areas like Mike posted. Black dead limbless pines standing thick in a few inches of ash. Did you know that often when you fell a burnt tree massive amounts of water comes pouring out? The roots continue to pump but since there are no more leaves/needles there is no transpiration happening and the water just fills it up.

The mills won't be taking green wood for some time because salvage (burnt, standing dead) timber is everywhere and logging operations can get paid to take it as opposed to paying to take green. It only keeps for a short time though, most will just stay there. This means that the Forest Service won't be selling timber, won't make any money and won't be able to fund fuel reduction. And of course the overcrowded parts of the forest that are left stay that way, no selective harvests happening. It's a downward spiral kind of thing.
 
pollinator
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Prescribed burns are a damned if you do and damned if you don't question many times.

IF we had not interfered with Mama Nature for decades if not centuries, natural burns would have continued, and handled things.  BUT, us humans decided we did not want natural burns (generally based on forestry/money/logging) and put a stop to natural fires because the were destroying "valuable" trees, or other items of value to humans.  So for the past century, at least in North America, we have been of the mentality and the government has essentially mandated us to FIGHT forest fires. Sadly, now this means massive, weather altering, life destroying fires of mammoth size now occur, putting not just valuable items at risk, but entire towns, and cities are being decimated, and lives of humans, livestock and wildlife are being lost, or irrevocably damaged and destroyed.

Now we are at a place where the ecosystem is so disturbed, natural burns have been denied, so now we kinda, sorta have to engage in prescribed burning to deal with all the under-story buildup that OOOPS just so happens is now RIGHT BESIDE residential developments or putting harvest-able logs at risk.

I may be simplifying this significantly; but the moral remains the same.  If we had just let Mama Nature do her thing, the question of prescribed burns would be moot.  Now it may be the only way to correct our mess is to engage in prescribed burns...
 
C. Letellier
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One other comment in most of the US controlled burns have been happening for thousands of years.
 
Mike Barkley
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Here's some pix from today. Three are from the area burnt in a wildfire a couple months ago. There was a lot of dead cogon grass there at the time so it was very hot. As you can see the small pines survived & are doing well. The 2 smallest won't get much bigger for a few years because they spend the first few years growing an extensive root system. The largest one is ready to grow much bigger.

These longleaf pines need no protection from fire. They actually require fire for the seeds to germinate. Some trees such as these azaleas are protected with water & specific firebreaks.

The ladder fuel pix are from a big burn on Saturday. Pic A is immediately before it reached a dead tree limb that apparently fell in a storm. Pic B is right as it arrives. Pic C is from another dead limb a few yards away but shows how flames can easily reach up towards the canopy. Which is when things can get bad quick so we try to prevent that from being possible. Ever. This particular part of the woods has many turkeys. They were there before the fire & they were there today. They will be there next year & the year after that. Along with many other plant & animal species that are classified as threatened or endangered & dependent on this type of forest. This type of tree used to cover about 900 million acres all along the gulf coast but is now only about 3 million acres. Slowly but surely it is being restored. One fire at a time.
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