Group organizes to support Rx burns on Mendocino NF

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A group calling themselves “Restore the Mendo” has formed in an effort to promote the use of prescribed fires on the Mendocino National Forest in northern California. Even though the Forest is currently doing some burning, the group would like to see the number of acres burned increase substantially.

Some of the organizations supporting the group are:

Mendocino County Board of Supervisors
California Wilderness Coalition
Environmental Protection Information Center
Forest Guild
The Wilderness Society
Willits Environmental Center

I talked with Rich Fairbanks, the Fire Program Associate for the Wilderness Society’s California-Nevada Region, about their support for the “Restore the Mendo” initiative. He worked in fire management for the U.S. Forest Service, including several Hot Shot Crews, before signing up with the Wilderness Society. I asked him why they began this push for more prescribed fire, and doesn’t the “Mendo” already do this?

Rich said that yes, they do, but of the 300,000 acres of mixed conifer on the forest, they only have the funding and personnel to accomplish 2,000-5,000 acres a year. One fire manager on the forest told Rich that he would like to see them burn 20,000 acres each year.

The group’s strategy is to convince politicians to increase the funding for the prescribed fire program on the Mendocino.

From my experience, when you are beginning to restore a forest by re-introducing fire, you will need to conduct multiple burns in the first 20-30 years before you can then enter a maintenance phase with less frequent burns. So 20,000 acres a year on a 300,000 acre forest seems conservative.

The Mendocino forest is one of the least complicated locations for prescribed fire, in that there is little urban interface, and population centers are far enough way that smoke management is not as big a concern as it is in some areas.

I have burned in one location where the fireline on the burn was adjacent to the backyards of homes, literally 30-feet from houses. It can be a luxury, relatively speaking, to have the nearest house miles away.

The group has produced a 30-second TV ad featuring a local rancher that began running November 12 on stations in northern California. Here is an image from the ad:
I began participating on prescribed fires in the 1970s, and if you are reading this blog, you are probably also a believer in the process. Forests are going to burn eventually. It is not a question of IF, but WHEN. We can control that burning in prescribed fires and do it on our own terms, or we can elect to do nothing and let nature (and careless fire-starting humans) do it for us with unplanned ignitions…sometimes with catastrophic consequences and/or massive amounts of smoke.

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