Rediscover Prescribed Fire

Prescribed fire is the planned, professional application of fire in the right place, at the right time. It is a safe, effective process that has been sidelined for the last 100 years as we suppressed wildfire on a state and national level.

Fire suppression was intended to keep people safer and industry thriving, but over time, has actually resulted in the reverse: unprecedented forest density, stockpiled fuels, and diseased, degraded forests that are more likely to burn hot, fast and out of control. Recent wildfires have been especially devastating for Washington: lost lives, lost homes, shuttered businesses, millions and millions spent.

There has to be a better way, and there is. It's time to embrace prescribed fire.


Fire Adapted, Fire Dependent

Insulated by thick, grooved bark and able to shed lower branches to protect its crown, Ponderosa pine is a critical Washington species that is heavily fire adapted.

Black rings and dates show this pine survived surface fires every 8-15 years, prior to national fire suppression policies adopted in 1910 (notice the lack of black rings after 1908). 

When we attempt to eradicate fire in our forests:

  • more trees compete for water and nutrients and overall forest health declines
  • vast areas of unnaturally dense forest are created with few breaks to halt the spread of wildfire

Protecting Public Safety

We all agree that our first priority is keeping our communities and firefighters safe. 

Controlled fire helps to reduce stockpiled fuels, which allows wildfire to burn slower and cooler. At times, this means fires can be safely managed without direct intervention. When action is required, landscapes treated with prescribed fire are safer for firefighters to work in and have more defensible spaces to effectively fight the fire.

With a healthier forest, wildfire goes out naturally, or fire teams have more options for efficient containment. People, pets and livestock are safer. More homes and businesses remain standing; more watershed and sensitive habitat survives. That is fighting fire with fire.


Fire is complex, but it can work for us. We need more frequent, low-intensity fire, and the expert collaboration and sound science to decide when, where and how we burn.


Ecology

Forests, woodlands, prairies, grasslands, shrub-steppe - all these Washington ecosystems depend on fire to thrive. While each ecosystem has its own unique relationship to fire, generally speaking, controlled fire can be used to:

  • create a healthy mosaic of plants and trees that are more resistant and resilient to fire, insects and disease
  • promote plant growth, vigor and diversity
  • maintain vegetation patterns that provide cool, clear water for people and wildlife

Wildlife

Fire helps provide a diversity of habitats in ecosystems that are preferred by many species, leading to greater biodiversity.

Big game animals like deer and elk highly prefer shrubs and forbs that regrow after a fire, and mountain goats and bighorn sheep favor open browsing habitat to brushy, densely treed zones.

Increased open space and stimulated post-fire foods such as berries and seeds attract smaller animals and birds. 


Industry

Controlled burning is part of comprehensive land management strategies in a variety of industries, including:

  • improving aesthetics and access to outdoor recreation areas
  • preparing forestry sites after harvest and disposing of slash that can’t be diverted to other uses
  • cultivating long-term forage for livestock
  • reducing harmful insect populations and disease
     
 

This pilot means progress.

With recent record-breaking years of megafire, and devastated communities across the state, it’s not surprising that fire is on lawmakers’ minds. In the 2016 legislative session, lawmakers explored tools for creating more fire-resilient forests, including the passage of House Bill 2928, the Forest Resiliency Burning Pilot project. The bill provides funding for prescribed fire on at-risk forests, as well as an exploration of current barriers to expanding the role of controlled fire in creating and maintaining fire-resilient forests.

We’re proud to say the Washington Prescribed Fire Council and our partner organizations are at the heart of this landmark effort to expand the use of prescribed fire, reduce megafire risk to communities and restore Washington's forests and streams.


Clearing the Air

Clean air is important, and no one likes smoke. Even small amounts can be harmful to people with sensitive health, including infants, people over 65, and those with heart and lung disease.

But the reality is that we live in a fire-dependent landscape where smoke is inevitable.

We must encourage public awareness of controlled fire. It is effective, predictable and safer than wildfire. And prescribed burn teams actively work with air quality regulators to minimize smoke levels near populated areas.

Prescribed fire is essential for healthy forests and can help reduce (though not eliminate) heavy smoke exposure and other risks from wildfire. Prescribed fire is what Washington needs now — and our lawmakers agree.

Washington Smoke Information

Good Fire Gets Recognized

Over the next two years, the pilot directs the Department of Natural Resources to work closely with the Prescribed Fire Council, Tapash Sustainable Forest Collaborative, North Central Washington Forest Health Collaborative and the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition to:

  • talk about forest resiliency and the restorative role of controlled burning
  • encourage successful completion of planned burns by giving approval on burn permits a minimum of 24 hours in advance of a planned burn, and make it easier to complete multi-day burns
  • monitor how much smoke was planned for and ultimately created by forest resiliency burning
  • track outcomes and make recommendations for potential updates to the DNR Smoke Management Plan

Learn More


Complete Info on Pilot Partners + Burns


Collaboration is Key

Washington Prescribed Fire Council is a collaborative group working to protect, conserve and expand the safe use of prescribed fire in our state. 

We are grateful to our over 50 member organizations and many committed partners who helped make the Forest Resiliency Burning Pilot a reality. In alignment with our mission and work over the last five years, one of the Council's main roles in the pilot will be opening up lines of communication between the public and fire teams about how controlled burning works, and why it matters. Together, we are putting fire to work for Washington.

The Heart of Rx Fire

Effective use of controlled fire begins and ends with professionals, on every level. But in the field, on the line - that's where planning, coordination, and experience are really put to the test.

In keeping with priorities set by recent Prescribed Fire Council conferences, and to support the collaborative focus of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy, the Council has convened a work group focused specifically on training, certification and information exchange for individuals, teams and fire bosses.


Prescribed Fire Council Listserv

Key objectives for the work group include:

  • broadcasting networks already in place
  • helping practitioners who are working in similar locations to forge alliances
  • sharing resources
  • increasing capacity for local fire response

The Council is in the process of creating a Listserv of training opportunities — a one-stop shop for those offering and looking for skilled, accredited training and other prescribed fire resources.

The Listserv will be an invite-only forum exclusively for controlled fire professionals. If interested, please submit an inquiry.

ALSO IN THE WORKS

  • Mapping planned and active burn projects statewide

  • Expanding our current calendar of fire-related events and prescribed fire projects

  • Tracking regional priorities for training


Mt. Adams Community Forest: Circling Around Fire


TREX — Prescribed Fire Training Exchanges

Since 2008, Prescribed Fire Training Exchanges (TREX) have been simultaneously meeting two key industry objectives: increasing the number of qualified controlled burners, and strategically using fire to support healthy landscapes.

TREX events are typically 2-3 week intensives which:

  • connect teachers and students from several states and organizations
  • provide daily burning experience and concentrated information exchange
  • advance the credentials of wildland firefighters
  • promote fire-adapted communities
  • spread the word about good fire with an inclusive, media-friendly approach

To learn more, visit the Conservation Gateway or contact Jeremy Bailey.


Fire is a conversation.
Let's keep talking.

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