Progress report for ESP20-02
Prescribed fire is well recognized as a cost-effective and uniquely beneficial land management tool, with utility for range management, ecological restoration, fuels reduction, wildlife habitat enhancement, and more. In California, most prescribed burning happens on federal lands, and private lands burning is largely planned and overseen by CAL FIRE through their Vegetation Management Program (VMP). After decades of decline, the VMP is now expanding, and CAL FIRE has made major investments to meet their statewide prescribed fire goals. Nonetheless, this state program alone cannot meet the demand from landowners, which has created a training need for private landowners to meet CAL FIRE requirements to lead community-based burns on private lands under shared liability with CAL FIRE to reduce this bottleneck (as required by SB1260). California Senate Bill 1260 recently mandated CAL FIRE to create a state certified burner program by 2020, but the main limitation is that only graduates of the first state certified burn boss course can teach subsequent courses, creating an immediate bottleneck in the availability of the course. For this project, we propose providing travel scholarships geared toward professionals within CAL FIRE, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Cooperative Extension, agriculturalists, and other organizations that work extensively with prescribed fire to empower them as statewide leaders to lead state certified burner courses across the state. This grant would be modeled after PDP travel scholarships to conferences, but would include the option for extra travel funds for those applicants to organize workshops in their own counties (if desired).
The challenge in our work as extension professionals is to nurture the next generation of great prescribed fire practitioners, using a fine balance of inspiration, training and regulation to get where we need to go. This certified burner program is a huge opportunity to change the norm in California, but there are bottlenecks that must be widened to make change beyond lofty agency goals.
Through this Enhanced State PDP Project, we hope to build capacity for resource management-driven prescribed fire on private lands in California. Specifically, we plan to:
- In collaboration with the target agencies and nonprofit groups (CAL FIRE, NRCS, Cooperative Extension, California Deer Association, California Cattlemen’s Association, and especially the California Prescribed Burn Association), continue developing a list of current prescribed fire practitioners that have the interest and drive to be community leaders/educators in their regions.
- Recruit a cadre from the first California certified burn boss graduation list to lead the second state certified burner class (with the list of strategically identified individuals aforementioned from partner agencies/groups) in partnership with the principal investigators. Cadre members will have expertise in range management, fuels management, and fire behavior, and have familiarity with programs and policies that enable prescribed fire on private lands.
- Provide the opportunity for additional travel funds to individuals, either from the first or second graduating class, to serve as instructors for more locally-coordinated efforts within their communities across the state to create a third cohort of certified burners.
Use this project as a pilot to explore future opportunities and models of seed funding for trainings across the state for the certified burn boss program.
Prescribed fire is well recognized as a cost-effective and uniquely beneficial land management tool, with utility for sustainable range management, ecological restoration, fuels reduction, wildlife habitat enhancement, ecosystem resiliency, and more. In California’s fire-adapted landscape, prescribed fire offers one of the most viable and ecologically appropriate pathways for landscape-scale management of resource concerns like woody encroachment, infestations of late season invasives, and fuels accumulations. However, the use of prescribed fire has largely been limited to federal lands in California, where managers have the funding, resources, and expertise to plan and implement projects, and private landowners have had to rely on agency partners in order to utilize prescribed fire as a tool. Then came the 2017 fire season and with it, a surge of political interest in fire that propelled things in unprecedented ways. California Senate Bill 1260 was signed into law in fall 2018 and focused explicitly on prescribed fire, including development of a state-led training and certification program for private prescribed fire burn bosses.
Increasing interest and demand from landowners has been an overwhelmingly positive development, yet it has also created a steep learning curve for new agency staff, and therefore, an opportunity for partnerships that enable prescribed fire-specific professional development and capacity building. These needs are not limited to CAL FIRE (our state’s fire suppression agency); similar demands and needs have also become common among staff within Cooperative Extension (CE), the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and other organizations. Among these groups, there is a clear need for training on how to best use prescribed fire to promote sustainable and effective management on private lands. Now we have the opportunity through SB1260 to not only train private, agency, and nonprofit prescribed fire professionals to be California certified burn bosses, but those individuals successful in completing the course will have the benefit of shared liability (up to 75%) with CAL FIRE for the burns they lead with common community members and agriculturalists across California.
Unfortunately, this California certified burn boss training is a week-long course, creating an economic burden for attendees. Agencies, NGOs, and private professionals alike have limited capacity and funding to support interested attendees to attend this course. Furthermore, although mandated with best intentions to meet demands for rigor within the program itself, the certified burner program immediately faces an immediate bottleneck, as only successful graduates of the course will be able to instruct future courses; therefore, the first class must teach the second, so on, and so forth. With time, there should be ample instructors across the state, but the initial lift of the attendees of the first few classes is a big ask. This grant is intended to reduce the financial burden of those early leaders who are willing to take-on the burden of educating community leaders, agriculturalists, and volunteer fire department practitioners in their counties as we build a foundation of community-based collaboration of using fire to improve the economic viability and safety of rural communities in our fire-prone state.
The development committee for the Certified Burn Boss program met numerous times in 2020 to receive updates from the state’s fire agency on the progress of approval for the Certified Burn Boss program, but due to COVID, delays have resulted in no approved program by which to Certify burners who have taken the course.
Education & Outreach Initiatives
Recruit geographically disperse class participants
Assuming the final approval of the Certified burn boss class in 2021, we will initiate outreach for participants. The most logical place to start is to extend invitations to the leaders of Prescribed Burn Associations across the state that are active members of the California Prescribed Burn Association.
If COVID prohibits the possibility of in-class trainings, we will use these funds to support fire professionals with the cost of taking the 3 online training modules that are prerequisites for the class to decrease limitations to participation when the in-class option resurfaces post-COVID.
Due to COVID and the lack of an approved class, no action has been taken to spend any grant funds or initiate trainings to date.
Face of SARE
We will be sure to incorporate the WSARE label in all programs and handouts to participants and that logo will persist into future meetings and trainings for the California Certified Burner handouts.