Better Fire: Informing and improving prescribed fire on private lands in California

Final report for MW18-003

Project Type: Enhanced State Grants
Funds awarded in 2018: $24,734.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2019
Grant Recipient: University of California Extension
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
Jeffrey Stackhouse
University of California Cooperative Extension
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Project Information

Abstract:

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 in new staff in
order to meet their statewide prescribed fire goals. This rapid expansion of the VMP, and increasing
interest and demand from landowners, has created a training need within CAL FIRE that cannot be met
by existing federal fire coursework or via internal agency expertise. Other agencies and organizations
that work with private landowners are encountering similar challenges: there is significant and growing
demand for prescribed fire among agricultural producers, but the agencies lack the expertise and
professional development opportunities to advise landowners and develop prescribed fire plans that
meet their resource management objectives. For this project, we developed a series of educational videos on conducting prescribed burns in California’s diverse ecosystems, geared toward professionals within CAL FIRE, the Natural Resources Conservation
Service, Cooperative Extension, and other agencies and organizations that work with and advise
agricultural producers on prescribed fire-related efforts. The module was modeled after and
include components of the federal RX-310 course (Introduction to Fire Effects), but was
abbreviated to increase opportunities for participation, and targeted specifically toward issues and
topics on private lands.

Project Objectives:

Through this project, we hoped to build capacity for resource management-driven prescribed fire on private lands in California. Specifically, we planed to: 1) record a series of very targeted webinars (minimum of 10) on specific uses of prescribed fire, given by experts who know the topics well; 2) compile a series of concise fact sheets that reflect the content of the webinars, which will later be made publicly available as a UCANR 8000 Series publication.

  • In collaboration with the target agencies (CAL FIRE, NRCS, and Cooperative Extension), we identified topics for web-based fire effects modules focused on the utility of prescribed fire for range improvement and other private lands management priorities. These modules would focus on burn planning, including identifying burn objectives, developing prescribed fire prescriptions, and evaluating effectiveness of control on target plant species.
  • Recruit an experienced cadre to lead the modules in partnership with the principal investigators. Cadre members would have expertise in range management, fuels management, and fire behavior, and have familiarity with programs and policies that enable prescribed fire on private lands.

Use this project as a pilot to explore future opportunities and models of training on these topics.

Introduction:

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’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 invasive weeds, 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.

 

The primary vehicle for private lands burning in California is CAL FIRE’s Vegetation Management Program (VMP). In the 1980s, the VMP was a booming program that treated 30,000-50,000 acres of private lands a year, but over the last two decades, the program has seen drastic decreases, sometimes falling well below 10,000 acres annually across the state. These declines, which are in direct contrast with the scope and scale of the need for “good” fire in California, have inspired a recent shift in CAL FIRE’s priorities, and the VMP has again become a central focus for the agency. Over the next several years, CAL FIRE aims to treat at least 20,000 acres annually, and they have made major investments in new staff in order to meet their goals. The rapid growth of the program and the increasing interest and demand from landowners has been an overwhelmingly positive development, yet it has also created a steep learning curve for new 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; similar demands and needs have also become common among staff within Cooperative Extension (CE), the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and other agencies and organizations that work directly with private landowners. 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.

 

In the federal fire management system, there are a variety of courses that fulfill the training needs of fire management staff. These courses are administered by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) and cover a wide range of topics. Though these courses are open to staff from CAL FIRE and other agencies, they are often taught by and developed for managers with federal agencies like the US Forest Service and the National Park Service, whose resource concerns and management objectives are different than those of private lands managers and agricultural producers. For CAL FIRE, NRCS, and CE staff, the standard NWCG course offerings are insufficient to address the management concerns and prescribed burn objectives that are common among their clientele. Also, those courses tend to be time intensive, which naturally limits participation by staff who have minimal support and time for professional development in these areas. For example, RX-310, NWCG’s Introduction to Fire Effects, is a week-long course that doesn’t typically include range-related topics. Likewise, these agencies have limited internal capacity to address the same material: CAL FIRE has no range specialists on staff, and NRCS and CE have very little prescribed fire expertise within their staff.

 

For this project, we proposed the development of series of online fire effects modules geared toward professionals within CAL FIRE, NRCS, CE, and other agencies and organizations that work with and advise agricultural producers on fire-related efforts throughout numerous ecotones of California’s diverse landscape. These modules/webinars were modelled after and include components of RX-310, but are abbreviated and targeted toward issues and topics on private lands.

Education

Educational approach:

During this project, we first used WSARE funds to provide honoraria for prescribed fire experts to create 16 webinars on burning across California Ecosystems. Then, we used funds to purchase hard copies of two highly regarded books about fire in California (Prescribed Burning in California Wildlands Vegetation Management by Harold Biswell; and Conducting Prescribed Fires: A Comprehensive Manual by John Weir) for the first 50 interested persons attending the in-person workshops where the webinars (and other information) was presented to attendees. Lastly, we were able to leverage WSARE funds for an RREA grant which funded a live fire training for attendees and other interested professionals to get hands-on experience during a live prescribed fire after the workshops. 

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Prescribed Fire in North Coast Chaparral
Objective:

The objective of this webinar is to discuss burn objectives, weather prescriptions, containment strategies, resource needs, and timing of projects.

Outcomes and impacts:

Based on feedback at our workshop in Hopland, CA, attendees were very informed from this webinar and were excited to be able to share this information with their colleagues, friends, and neighbors. 

Use of girdling as a tool for oak woodland/prairie restoration
Objective:

• Brief overview of the use of girdling in oak woodland/prairie restoration
• Techniques and timing for successful girdling
• Fire specifics
o How to lay out a girdling project with future prescribed fire in mind (e.g., can you have girdled trees on the edge of an Rx fire unit? Is it okay if girdled trees torch out during Rx fire, and if so, do you need to think about their proximity to oaks and other high-value trees? Etc., etc.)
• Other considerations that you think people need to consider when planning girdling projects and when planning Rx fire in units with girdled trees

Outcomes and impacts:

Honestly, I have received little feedback from this webinar as of yet. 

Prescribed burning in mixed conifer/tan oak forests
Objective:

To educate professionals on burn objectives, project planning, and implementation for conducting prescribed burns on private properties in the mixed conifer/tan oak ecosystem type.

Outcomes and impacts:

This webinar has really gained the attention and has been shared among the Klamath and Trinity River Tribes in Northern California 

Prescribe burning associations: landowners effectively applying fire to the land
Objective:

• Overview of how Prescribed burn Associations (PBAs) in the Great Plains are structured and how they function
• Share data on how many PBAs there are in the country and how they support sustainable agriculture and land management
• Share data on acres implemented, escape rates, insurance claims, etc., and how those compare with other agencies
• Provide insights on the liability issue

Outcomes and impacts:

Parties interested in starting Prescribed Burn Associations (PBAs) in California (especially RCDs) have informed me that this webinar has been extremely useful in helping them described what a PBA is to their board of directors and other interested parties. 

Protecting infrastructure before a prescribed fire
Objective:

The objective of this project was to increase the understanding of infrastructure vulnerabilities for when prescribed burns are conducted near homesteads.

Outcomes and impacts:

Interestingly, the real fire experts have approached me about how they have never considered hardening the home before a prescribed fire. These topics/ideas are most commonly utilized in preparation for a wildfire (which is unknown) but are seldom employed for prescribed fire (which the time and place is known). 

Prescribed fire in mixed conifer forests
Objective:

• Brief background on fire in mixed-conifer forests, and why a landowner might want to use Rx fire as a management tool (define goals for burning)
• Fire specifics
o Timing of burn—what are the best windows for burning? How do you know when the timing is right? Are there windows throughout the year?
o Prescription/environmental parameters for meeting objectives (RH, temperature, etc.)
o Fire effects: What level of mortality or stand thinning might you expect? Differences in fire effects based on time of year? Fuels reduction benefits vs potential losses from Rx fire treatments?

Outcomes and impacts:

This webinar has been utilized at 3 workshops in the Sierra range with positive feedback from 3 extension professionals. 

Using prescribed fire in management of Ponderosa pine
Objective:

• Brief overview of each system and why/how you’d use Rx fire as a management tool
• Fire specifics
o Timing of burn—what are the best windows for burning in these systems? How do you know when the timing is right? What clues do you look for in the field?
o Prescription/environmental parameters for meeting objectives
• Other considerations when planning projects in these systems

Outcomes and impacts:

One extension person is teaming with a USFS professional to conduct a research project based off this webinar on Ponderosa burning. 

Using prescribed fire in management of Black oaks
Objective:

• Brief overview of each system and why/how you’d use Rx fire as a management tool
• Fire specifics
o Timing of burn—what are the best windows for burning in these systems? How do you know when the timing is right? What clues do you look for in the field?
o Prescription/environmental parameters for meeting objectives
• Other considerations that you think people need to consider when planning projects in black oak systems

Outcomes and impacts:

Three ranchers and one California Parks Forester have voiced their appreciation for this webinar. 

Common tribal cultural uses of fire in northwestern California: Acorns and Hazelnut-basketry stems
Objective:

• Select one or two of the most important cultural uses of prescribed fire in the region and give background on why tribal members use fire to manage those resources
• Fire specifics
o Timing of burn—what are the best windows for burning? How do you know when the timing is right? What clues do you look for in the field?
o Prescription (e.g., head fire versus backing fire, environmental parameters for meeting objectives (RH, temperature, etc.))
o Fire effects: how do you know you’ve met your objectives?
• Other considerations: return intervals for burning

Outcomes and impacts:

This video is of specific importance to a non-profit working with Northern California tribes (the Mid-Klamath Watershed Center). 

Prescribed fire for conifer management in oak woodlands
Objective:

• Brief background on conifer encroachment and the use of fire to manage it
• Fire specifics
o Timing of burn—what are the best windows for burning? How do you know when the timing is right? What clues do you look for in the field?
o Prescription (e.g., head fire versus backing fire, environmental parameters for meeting objectives (RH, temperature, etc.))
o Fire effects: what’s the largest size class of conifer you can kill with fire? When might you need to think about mechanical treatment? Is oak mortality an issue?
• Other considerations: return intervals for burning

Outcomes and impacts:

This webinar has been useful to get CalFire staff to reassess timing of their burns… they are specifically interested in the options of winter burning to control conifers in oak woodlands. 

Weather monitoring for prescribed fire
Objective:

The objective of this webinar is to get non-fire ecologist professionals up to speed on fire weather. What the terms are, how they are used, and how to help ag professionals educate their clientele on prescribed fire and how it relates to weather.

Outcomes and impacts:

Many extension and RCD/NRCS staff have voiced their appreciation for the clarification of “fire lingo” that this webinar provides. Like many professions, fire has its own terminology and science. This webinar helps agricultural professionals join in conversations with fire professionals to understand weather terminology. 

The use of prescribed fire in Western Juniper woodlands
Objective:

To speak to burn windows, prescriptions, control lines, and planning of burns in the juniper woodland ecosystem.

Outcomes and impacts:

I have received little feedback on this webinar, but will continue outreach to northeastern California extension personnel. 

Barb goatgrass control and fire
Objective:

To inform fire professionals about the utility of prescribed fire to control California's worst late-phenology rangeland weeds, discuss timing importance for control, required follow-up treatments, and other options for control if timing or burn intensities are not attainable.

Outcomes and impacts:

These late-phenology species are of greatest concern to livestock producers. As such, these webinars have been of highest-interests to the livestock ranchers and to CalFire staff whom work closely with ranchers in their Vegetation Management Program. 

Medusahead control and fire
Objective:

To inform fire professionals about the utility of prescribed fire to control California's worst late-phenology rangeland weeds, discuss timing importance for control, required follow-up treatments, and other options for control if timing or burn intensities are not attainable.

Outcomes and impacts:

These late-phenology species are of greatest concern to livestock producers. As such, these webinars have been of highest-interests to the livestock ranchers and to CalFire staff whom work closely with ranchers in their Vegetation Management Program. 

Yellow starthistle control and fire
Objective:

To inform fire professionals about the utility of prescribed fire to control California's worst late-phenology rangeland weeds, discuss timing importance for control, required follow-up treatments, and other options for control if timing or burn intensities are not attainable.

Outcomes and impacts:

These late-phenology species are of greatest concern to livestock producers. As such, these webinars have been of highest-interests to the livestock ranchers and to CalFire staff whom work closely with ranchers in their Vegetation Management Program. 

Educational & Outreach Activities

20 Consultations
1 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
1 On-farm demonstrations
16 Online trainings
44 Webinars / talks / presentations
3 Workshop field days

Participation Summary

15 Extension
15 NRCS
25 Researchers
60 Nonprofit
20 Agency
1 Ag service providers (other or unspecified)
40 Farmers/ranchers
1 Others

Learning Outcomes

177 Participants gained or increased knowledge, skills and/or attitudes about sustainable agriculture topics, practices, strategies, approaches
68 Ag professionals intend to use knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness learned

Project Outcomes

2 Grants received that built upon this project
30 New working collaborations
50 Agricultural service provider participants who used knowledge and skills learned through this project (or incorporated project materials) in their educational activities, services, information products and/or tools for farmers
40 Farmers reached through participant's programs
Additional Outcomes:

Through this project, we increased capacity for resource management-driven prescribed
fire on private lands in California. Specifically, targeting: fire support agencies (CAL FIRE, NRCS, Resource Conservation Districts, and Cooperative Extension).

  • We develop webinars with curriculum for a two-day fire effects module focused on the utility of prescribed
    fire for range improvement and other private lands management priorities. The webinars
    focus on burn planning, including identifying burn objectives, developing
    prescribed fire prescriptions, and evaluating effectiveness.
    • We recruited an experienced cadre to lead the webinars in partnership with the principal
    investigators. Cadre experts had expertise in range management, fuels
    management, and fire behavior, and have familiarity with programs and policies that
    enable prescribed fire on private lands.
    • And we hosted three workshops at key locations across northern California, inviting staff
    from CAL FIRE, NRCS, Cooperative Extension, and other agencies organizations that
    work with and advise agricultural producers on prescribed fire-related efforts where we introduced the webinar resources, distributed the books by Biswell and Weir, and invited permitting agencies to educate attendees on permitting requirements across desperate air quality and CalFire management areas across the state.  
    • we also used this project as a pilot to explore future opportunities and models of training on
    these topics and identified additional needs for additional topics of: Rx Fire and Livestock, Economics of Rx Fire, History of Fire in California’s Landscapes, Burning in Young Coniferous Forests, and How to Navigate CalFire’s Permitting Processes. 
Success stories:

During one of our workshops, we conducted a live fire training with over 55 attendees, allowing participants to gain hands-on experience with live fire after a day-long educational event using the Enhanced State Grant-funded materials. 

Face of SARE

Face of SARE:

At each workshop, I described what WSARE is, the funding opportunities, and my role as PDP coordinator for CA to assist interested parties in applying for grant opportunities. 

 

We also had each webinar presenter credit WSARE in each of their PowerPoint presentations and specifically asked each to thank WSARE for the funding to support the project. Please see: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCiA9f4-WZcFyK9ayh_TkEZQ?view_as=subscriber for webinars crediting WSARE on YouTube. These webinars are also posted on numerous FaceBook pages throughout the CA prescribed fire networks. 

40 Farmers received information about SARE grant programs and information resources
130 Ag professionals received information about SARE grant programs and information resources
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.