“If we don’t burn it when we can control it, it will burn when we can’t.”
Researchers from the USDA’s Southern Research Station (SRS) concluded in a study that a person’s ethnicity and culture may affect their perceptions of prescribed fire. Here is an excerpt from a summary of their report:
SRS researchers Mike Bowker, Cassandra Johnson, and Ken Cordell, along with university collaborators Siew Lim, Gary Green, and Sandra Rideout-Hanzak (former SRS scientist) used data from a recent version of the National Survey on Recreation and the Environment to look at how culture affects perceptions and attitudes about fire and fire management in the South. When they analyzed the results, they found definite variations among respondents from the three most prominent ethnic groups in the South—African- Americans, Hispanics, and whites— about prescribed fire and its effects.
“The purpose of the southwide survey was to provide policymakers with a broad picture of public opinion on prescribed fire among major ethnic groups in the Southern United States,” says Bowker, SRS research social scientist based in Athens, GA. “The goal is to enhance agency communications with the public and to gain acceptance of prescribed fire as a fuel control program.”
Though overall most survey respondents agreed that public land managers and forest professionals can be trusted to choose the best methods for dealing with fire, African- American and Hispanic agreement was lower. African-Americans and Hispanics were also less likely to support prescribed fire as a management tool, and were more concerned about fire effects—harm to wildlife, reduced scenic quality, and smoke—than whites. Females across all groups also tended to be more concerned about the effects of prescribed fire than males. In addition, although level of education had no effect on preference for prescribed fire in general, concern over side effects diminished as education increased.
“Though we found that concern over the side effects of prescribed fire diminished as education level increased, it doesn’t mean that more education leads to environmental knowledge,” cautions Bowker. “The whole correlation between education and environmental knowledge needs to be more carefully examined.”
One reason for differences among groups may have to do with ethnic environmental beliefs and backgrounds, an area that social environmental science has only started to explore. Another factor uncovered in the survey was local private forest land coverage. According to the survey data, as the presence of private forest land increases in the area a respondent lives in, so does distrust in the use of fire as a management tool. This result may indicate a lack of confidence in the expertise of private land owners or managers, distrust of state liability laws, or a lack of communication between residents and private land managers.
“Our statistical evidence suggests that ethnicity does matter when it comes to prescribed fire,” says Bowker. “To gain wide public support and trust, land managers and owners should be aware of these differences, and fuel control programs should be tailored with the concerns and preferences of the local community in mind.”
The Wenatchee World has an article that reviews two prescribed fires that escaped control on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest in Washington earlier this month, the Beehive and the Preston-Fox fires. Here is an excerpt.
WENATCHEE In early October, when it seemed wildfire season had come to a close, two fires on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest burned out of control.
Intentionally ignited by the U.S. Forest Service as prescribed fires, parts of the Beehive Reservoir Fire southwest of Wenatchee, and the Preston-Fox Fire west of Entiat became uncontrolled wildfires. The agency called in helicopters, hotshot crews and other resources to get the fires under control.
The Forest Service is conducting more and larger controlled burns throughout the Pacific Northwest. In 2002 it burned a total of 34,300 acres in Washington and Oregon, and that figure had more than doubled to about 82,500 acres this year, said regional Forest Service spokesman Tom Knappenberger.
And with more acres to burn, and only short windows in the spring and fall to burn them, fire officials say it’s not a surprise that some of the fires get away.
“You can’t have large prescribed fires without expecting to lose a fire here and there,” said Bobbie Scopa, fire management officer for the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.
She said the Forest Service is trying to burn more acres without spending more money and the only way to do that is to burn larger units.
“If you think about the forest being 3.8 million acres, and say we were burning 10,000 to 15,000 acres a year, we’re not going to make a big enough impact on the forest by doing that,” she said. “We’re trying to increase the size of our projects so we can make a difference.”
Forest spokeswoman Robin DeMario said it’s tough to determine exactly how much money the Forest Service spent to suppress these fires beyond what the agency was already spending to under-burn the areas.
Only about 45 acres of the 600 acres burned in Beehive, and about 100 acres of 1,400 acres burned in the Preston-Fox were not slated for prescribed fire, she said.
The cost of fighting those fires ranged from $600 to $800 per acre, compared with about $30 it costs to conduct a controlled burn, DeMario said.
“We try to be good stewards of the land. And we try to be cost-conscious with American tax dollars, which is why we try to do prescribed burning. It costs a lot less,” she said.
No homes were threatened by either blaze, but the Beehive fire did burn about 40 acres of Longview Timber Corp. property.
Company representative Steve Tift said much of the fire stayed on the ground, but climbed into some trees which now have orange needles. He said he won’t know until next spring if the trees will survive. “We hate to lose any timber,” he said. But added, “Fire in Eastern Washington is just part of life.”
The Preston-Fox Fire burned about 85 acres of the Entiat Experimental Forest, where Forest Service researchers are conducting ongoing studies. That 1,290-acre fire started as a 10-acre test plot that escaped.
Winds pushed both fires out of control.
Scopa said the Forest Service does all it can to get an accurate weather forecast, but the weather doesn’t always do what’s expected.
“We take weather readings on the site for a few days prior to when we’re burning,” she said. The readings include things like fuel moisture and humidity along with winds speed, wind direction, temperature and other factors. The information is sent to the National Weather Service in Spokane, which comes up with a forecast for the specific site before the controlled burn is ignited, Scopa said.
“Is it foolproof, every time you ignite a burn? No, it isn’t,” she said. “This is not an exact science.”
Scopa said it’s never a good thing to lose control of a prescribed burn, but in both fires, the blaze that escaped acted more like a controlled burn than a wildfire — burning out the understory without burning up into the crowns of trees, thereby leaving the larger, older trees in a healthier ecosystem.
“We’re not happy we weren’t able to keep it inside the line, but the area that burned outside the line was just as beneficial, from a resource-benefit standpoint,” she said.
More information about the Preston-Fox fire can be found HERE.
The Baker River Hotshots Tweeted about both fires in early October.
On Friday we posted some photos of the Headquarters West prescribed fire at Wind Cave National Park. Here is a video of some of the early activities on the first day of that 2-day, 600+ acre project.
Yesterday I spent several hours taking photos at a prescribed fire at Wind Cave National Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The park has a long history of prescribed fire, with the first one occurring in 1972. This two-day, 652-acre project was called Headquarters West, and was between the campground and the park headquarters.
HERE is information about the single-gas, pocket-size monitor made by Drager.
Thanks to Jim McMahill, Fire Management Officer, and his staff for their hospitality.
Some of the video that I shot is scheduled to be on the 5:30 evening news Friday on the Rapid City KOTA television station.
HERE is a link to the video.
One of the nightmares of wildland firefighters is being sued or charged with a crime when things go badly on a wildfire or prescribed fire. Some of the federal land management agencies have aggressively sought to find a law that was broken when there was a serious accident on a fire. That is why we recommend professional liability insurance for wildland firefighters who are in supervisory positions.
The state of Pennsylvania has taken a step in the right direction by passing a law that will help to protect firefighters involved in prescribed fire.
An excerpt from an article at TribLIVE:
In July, Gov. Ed Rendell signed into law House Bill 262. Sponsored by Cambria County Democratic Rep. Gary Haluska, the bill created the “prescribed fire burning act.” It “encourages the continued use of prescribed burning for fuel reduction, ecological, forest, wildlife and grassland management purposes.”
Most importantly, it provides a definition for a “prescribed burn worker” and removes individual liability from fire bosses who have received proper training and burn according to guidelines that are right now being established.
That liability issue kept agencies from doing much burning in the past because the man who struck the first match — even at the instruction of the agency — was individually as liable for any damages that occurred as was the organization itself.
Now that it’s been resolved, wildlife and habitat should benefit.
“This law will provide guidance and legal protection to land managers who understand the ecology of fire and want to embrace the best practices for managing public and private landscapes,” said Nels Johnson, the Pennsylvania director of conservation programs for The Nature Conservancy.