Prescribed burns in Klamath region serve as model for U.S., around globe
Prescribed burns are taking place on forested lands throughout the Klamath region in Siskiyou and Humboldt counties.
These burns include a prescribed fire training exchange where firefighters and others from throughout the nation and world learn about these techniques.
This year, organizers plan to apply fire on Karuk Tribe, private and public lands in and around the communities of Happy Camp, Somes Bar and Orleans. The burns began the first of October and are expected to continue, depending on the weather, until the end of November.
The fall training and burns are put on by the Klamath River Prescribed Fire Training Exchange (Klamath TREX). TREX consists of the Karuk Tribe, Mid Klamath Watershed Council, Salmon River Restoration Council and a host of other organizations, said Craig Tucker, natural resources policy consultant for the Karuk Tribe.
Tucker said this is the largest training of its kind in the U.S., as trainees learn the art of prescribed fire while working with locals to implement projects in Siskiyou and Humboldt counties. Around 150 participants are expected to take part this year, he said.
"The Middle Klamath has become an epicenter of natural conservation," Tucker said.
Large-scale fire training
The Klamath River TREX is one of the largest prescribed fire training programs in the U.S., said Erica Terence, public information officer for Klamath TREX.
Over the past eight years, she said over 500 participants from seven countries have learned how to use prescribed fire to protect their communities from catastrophic wildfire and promote ecosystem health.
Previously, people have come from throughout the nation and other counties, including Spain and Australia.
"People from all over the globe are learning these skill sets and knowledge," Terence said.
Tucker said burn conditions are perfect in October and November when the weather turns mild and damp. He noted that the prescribed burns will help protect communities and watersheds from the possibility of another round of devastating fires next summer.
He said the impacts from this training are "immensurable" and give those who take part an opportunity to pass on this knowledge of safe-fire practices in their area.
"We used prescribed fire to protect our communities from summer wildfires for millennia," said Bill Tripp, Karuk Tribe natural resources director.
"After a century of no-burn policies and a decade of catastrophic wildfires, state and federal agencies are finally letting communities put the fire back in the forest in a safe and healthy way."
Prescribed burns are the practice of applying fire to specific parcels of land when conditions are safe, and precautions have been taken to contain the fire, Tucker said. For tribes, such as the Karuk, this is an ancient cultural practice that is often intertwined with ceremonies.
"If we have learned anything in the past few decades, it's we can't exclude fire from these landscapes even if we want to," said Will Harling, executive director of the Mid Klamath Watershed Council. "We have to build resources to implement prescribed and cultural fire treatments when the time is right, to protect our communities from the fire next time."
Enhancing forest health
Tripp said prescribed fire and cultural burns enhance forest health. Many plants traditionally used for food and fiber flourish in areas subject to these managed burns. He said that prescribed fires protect homes and communities by consuming fuels that would otherwise be dangerous during a mid-summer fire event.
"We are achieving great outcomes, but we have a long way to go," Tripp said. "We seek to manage our entire million-acre aboriginal territory with fire the way our ancestors did."
He added they need to scale up quickly to adapt to climate change and to "keep our communities safe, and so does every other community in the West."
Tucker said prescribed burning reduces the amount of woody debris and wildfire risks to protect communities, homes and lives. In addition, proper planning and appropriate weather conditions allow local communities to use prescribed burns to manage watersheds and protect against catastrophic wildfires.
Legislation enabled more prescribed and cultural burning this year. The bills now make it easier for groups to buy insurance necessary to implement burn projects, help train and certify burn bosses, and require the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to appoint a cultural burning liaison.
This includes Senate Bill 332. This bill changes the law to require a showing of gross negligence on controlled burn bosses and cultural fire practitioners before they can be found liable for paying fire suppression costs instead of the current simple negligence standard.
Assembly Bill 642 makes multiple changes to state law to enhance wildland fire-prevention efforts, including, among other things, incorporating and facilitating cultural burning practices. This bill covers a variety of topics, including prescribed fire, tribal relations and sovereignty.
This year's California budget package included tens of millions of dollars to help prescribed fire proponents plan and implement projects with $20 million set aside expressly for tribes, Tucker said.
Bill Choy covers sports and general news for the Siskiyou Daily News/Mount Shasta Herald/USA Today Network. Follow him on Twitter at@SDNBillChoy. Email Bill at email@example.com. Support local journalism by subscribing today.