A group of state and federal land management agencies in California have established a plan to promote the use of “beneficial fire” and, by 2025, expects to treat up to 400,000 acres per year.
This is well below the agreement the same agencies reached in 2018 to process one million acres per year by 2025. In August 2020, they recommitted to that same one million goal. acres. The plan released last week reaffirms the one million goal on page 17, but on the next page it says: “By 2025, land managers will seek to deploy beneficial fire on 400,000 acres per year, based on the following objectives and estimates: “
The above numbers total 300,000 prescribed/cultural acres each year plus 120,000-200,000 managed fire acres for resource benefit.
Beneficial fire, a little-used term, is defined in the document as including prescribed fire, fire managed for the benefit of resources (less than complete suppression of unplanned ignitions), and cultural burning by Native American tribes in California.
Between 2017 and 2020, CAL FIRE and the US Forest Service conducted or participated in prescribed fire activities on approximately 80,000 acres per year, according to the plan released by the agencies last week. During the same period, tribes, California state parks, the National Park Service, local agencies and private entities burned tens of thousands of additional acres each year. The USFS and NPS also complete approximately 20,000 acres each year of fire management to benefit resources. The amount of land thinned or converted to firebreak but not burned would add to this figure.
Doing some numbers on the back of the envelope, let’s assume that during this four-year period, approximately 120,000 prescribed acres were burned each year. Current estimates indicate that between 10 million and 30 million acres in California need some form of fuel reduction treatment. To use an intermediate figure, if 20 million acres are to be treated over an average fireback interval of 20 years, that equates to one million acres that need to be treated each year, or about eight times the treated area. every year recently. The actual average fire return interval is likely to be less, especially since neglected areas will need both an initial entry burn and at least one subsequent burn before they can be restored to a sustainable fire regime and achieve maintenance status.
The plan released last week by the governor’s Wildfire and Forest Resilience Task Force says the state of California will begin managing some fires for the benefit of resources, a major shift in its policy. They will assess areas on state land where modified fire suppression strategies can be implemented, such as land trusts, ranches and timber owners. Where applicable and authorized by the State Legislature, CAL FIRE will utilize plans and agreements with land managers and landowners to allow unintentional ignitions to burn under predetermined and prescribed conditions, to achieve resource benefits similar to directed fire.
Key elements of the plan include:
- Launch an online prescribed burn permit system to streamline the review and approval of prescribed burn projects;
- Establish the new state prescribed fire compensation fund to reduce the liability of private burners;
- Launched a statewide program to enable tribes and cultural fire practitioners to revitalize cultural burning practices;
- A prescribed fire training center to develop, train, and diversify the state’s prescribed fire workforce;
- A beneficial inter-agency fire monitoring system;
- Pilot projects to undertake larger landscape scale burns; and
- A comprehensive review of state smoke management programs to facilitate prescribed burning while protecting public health.
“This plan is critical to improving the health and resilience of state forests, reducing wildfire risk to vulnerable communities, and increasing stewardship by Native American fire practitioners,” said Jennifer Eberlien, co-chair of the group. Regional Labor and Forestry Department of the US Forest Service.
The plan, California Strategic Plan to Expand the Use of Beneficial Fire, March 2022, was developed by the Governor’s Task Force on Wildfires and Forest Resilience. It can be downloaded here: (large file of 17 Mo).