There are many tools in the forest manager’s toolkit. One of the most ancient is fire. From the time the first Native Americans arrived in the Americas, they employed fire to improve their environment, enhancing the growth of plants used for food and tools and improving browse for prey animals.
Burning fell out of favor in the early 1900’s. From then until late in the twentieth century, all fires were vigorously suppressed. Over time, it became apparent that suppressing all fire caused unexpected environmental problems. Many seeds only germinate after fire has passed through. Landscapes were becoming overgrown with brush, which were undesirable browse for the animal populations. The growth of brush and trees exceeded the land’s capacity, leaving stunted and disease vulnerable vegetation and contributing to a growing wildfire hazard.
In the meantime, the population of California grew, and many people spread out from the cities into the rural areas. Today, we are faced with a delicate balancing act of trying to restore fire to its proper place in California’s ecology while at the same time not endangering residents and fowling air quality.
Forestland Steward Spring 2013 newsletter provides an excellent introduction into the whys and hows of prescribed fire in today’s California. Check it out, then explore the Northern California Prescribed Fire Council, and watch for the arrival of the Central Coast Prescribed Fire Council, which will serve the Santa Cruz Mountains down through Monterey and San Benito counties.