Video released about Native Fire in the Southern Plains

Native Fire Video

Produced in in partnership with Injunuity, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has released  “Native Fire,” an educational video about prescribed fire.

It covers Native American’s historic use of fire and addresses how traditional practices in the southern plains have influenced its modern-day application. In the video, fire research specialists speak to this history and address some of the complex challenges facing land managers today.

The 13-minute video also explains why fire is an essential and timeless tool that is necessary for maintaining and restoring ecosystems that evolved with fire.

Class action suit filed over health effects of burning sugar cane

Burning field sugar cane
Burning a field of sugar cane in Hawaii. Photo by bob Bangerter.

A class action lawsuit was filed in Florida Tuesday over the health effects of burning sugar cane fields.

The four people at the front of the room where the legal action was announced included, in addition to an attorney and a state legislator, Frank Biden, brother of former Vice President Joe Biden, and former Jacksonville Jaguars running back Fred Taylor.

Fields of sugar cane are sometimes burned before manual harvesting in order to remove the dry leaves and chase away or kill any lurking venomous snakes.

Below are excerpts from an article at the Sun-Sentinel:

There have been more than 100,000 cane field burns in Palm Beach County since 2004, according to former state Sen. Joe Abruzzo, who now serves as the director of government relations at the Berman Law Group, which filed the suit.

According to Abruzzo, there are also 700 hospitalizations for asthma in Palm Beach County for every 100,000 residents. That’s significantly higher than statewide numbers. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the hospitalization rate for asthma in Florida is 142.4 out of 100,000.

“The sugar companies, they have to take responsibility for this. If nothing more, they need to promote awareness and get down to the bottom of these health issues because the community is dying,” Taylor said. “The black snow that comes from the sky, people are breathing that stuff in. They’re getting sicker and sicker every day.”

The lawsuit accuses U.S. Sugar, Florida Crystals and other sugar producers of negligence, liability for any damages caused by the burning of the fields, and trespassing in that hazardous waste landed on the property of members of the class-action suit, among other things. The suit asks the court to institute a medical monitoring program for residents of Belle Glade, South Bay, Pahokee and nearby areas, as well as asking the court to force sugar companies to stop any future crop burnings.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Bob. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Officials still investigating cause of death on prescribed fire in South Carolina

Angela (Nicole) Chadwick-Hawkins was killed

Nicole Hawkins
Nicole Hawkins, the wildlife biologist at Fort Jackson’s Directorate of Public Works Environmental Department, sets up an artificial cavity box 20 feet up in a tree at Fort Jackson Nov. 6, 2015 in preparation for a soon-to-be arriving endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. (U.S. Army photo by Jennifer Stride/Released)

Officials from three agencies have not released much information on what caused the death of wildlife biologist Angela (Nicole) Chadwick-Hawkins while she was working on a prescribed fire at Fort Jackson Army Base in South Carolina Wednesday, May 22.

Below is an excerpt from an article published June 11 at The State:

…Three federal agencies investigating her death aren’t saying much about the cause, but information her family has received from the Army and others knowledgeable about the death suggests some kind of equipment malfunction led to the fatality that stunned friends from Alabama to Virginia, family members say.

Chadwick-Hawkins’ son, Dakota Bryant of Myrtle Beach, said fuel was found on her upper body and on equipment she was using that day. A charred all-terrain vehicle sat near her body and a gas cap was missing from a fuel tank, family members said. The Alabama native had been in contact with base officials by radio, just before she died, they said.

“I don’t know definitely that it was an equipment malfunction, but it is likely based on the fact that there was fuel found on her gear,’’ the 24-year-old Bryant said, noting that fuel on her gear “was not normal.’’

She had worked as a civilian at the base since 2007, with much of her time spent in helping to bring back an endangered species, the red-cockaded woodpecker. One of the techniques used to improve the bird’s habitat was the use of prescribed fire.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Trump administration seeks to streamline environmental review of prescribed fire and logging projects

The U. S. Forest Service is planning to streamline the environmental reviews of certain prescribed fire and forest management projects, including logging.

Below is an excerpt from a June 12 article at NPR.org.


Federal land managers on Wednesday proposed sweeping rule changes to a landmark environmental law that would allow them to fast-track certain forest management projects, including logging and prescribed burning.

The U.S. Forest Service, under Chief Vicki Christiansen, is proposing revisions to its National Environmental Policy Act regulations that could limit environmental review and public input on projects ranging from forest health and wildfire mitigation to infrastructure upgrades to commercial logging on federal land.

Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen budget FY2020
Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen testified about the White House’s proposed budget for FY2020 on May 15, 2019.

“We do more analysis than we need, we take more time than we need and we slow down important work to protect communities,” Christiansen told NPR.

The proposed rule changes include an expansion of “categorical exclusions.” These are often billed as tools that give land managers the discretion to bypass full-blown environmental studies in places where they can demonstrate there would be no severe impacts or degradation to the land.

John Gale, with the conservation group Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, says that if applied carefully and narrowly to certain projects, these exclusions could help lower the fire risk. But he’s skeptical because the administration recently rolled back protections for clean water and wildlife

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Rick. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Comparing prescribed fire activity across the United States

Trying to compare the acres treated with prescribed fire in California and Florida is like comparing apples and penguins. In addition to California’s significant regulatory issues, the vegetation there is more explosive (in some areas), the terrain complicates ignition, and the road systems and access can sometimes be challenging. By comparison Florida is flat, access is usually much easier, and the fuels are not as difficult for an experienced prescribed fire crew to safely ignite.

But with the increased wildfire activity in recent decades and pressure from many sources to treat hazardous fuels and rake the forests, more attention is being focused on prescribed fire as one way to mitigate the effects of climate change. However the number of acres treated on federal lands is directly related to the funds appropriated for that purpose. And those dollars have been relatively flat for a number of years.

Climate Central put together some interesting graphics. (Click on the images twice to see larger versions and more tweets in the thread.)

Researcher finds that Native Americans ignited more fires than lightning

Data was collected in the Southern Sierra Nevada Mountains in California

A California professor’s dissertation has won a prestigious award for her work that determined fires 1,500 years ago in the Sequoia National Forest in Southern California were predominantly ignited by Native Americans rather than by lightning. Until the last 100 years or so most forests in the Western United States had far fewer trees per acre than today. Suppressing fires caused by lightning, arson, and accidents has resulted in overstocked forests that can lead to very large wildfires that threaten lives and property and are very difficult to control.

Prescribed fires can over time lead to stand densities that replicate the pre-Columbian condition, but in modern times the practice has not been widely used in the Western United States at landscape scale.

Professor Anna Klimaszewski-Patterson
Professor Anna Klimaszewski-Patterson. (Photo courtesy of Anna Klimaszewski-Patterson)

“We should be taking Native American practices into account,” said Anna Klimaszewski-Patterson, a Sacramento State assistant professor of geography, whose dissertation on the subject recently won the J. Warren Nystrom award from the American Association of Geographers (AAG).

“After all, they are stakeholders who have been here a heck of a lot longer than we have,” she said. “We should probably be looking at their traditions and incorporating them” into forest management.

Klimaszewski-Patterson uses paleoecology – the study of past ecosystems – as well as environmental archaeology and predictive landscape modeling in her current work, which is funded by the National Science Foundation. She won the Nystrom award after presenting her paper at the AAG’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C., earlier this month.

Using computer models and pollen and charcoal records to track changes in the forest over time, she has found that forest composition dating back 1,500 years likely was the result of deliberate burning by Native Americans, rather than natural phenomena such as lightning strikes. Those forests featured wide open spaces, resembling parks.

More information about the research.