ACR’s Fire Ecology Program is spearheading a revolution in northern San Francisco Bay Area's land management techniques and cultural relationship to fire so that we can learn to live with fire rather than suffer catastrophic losses. Using an all hands, all lands approach, ACR is partnerning with public and private agencies across the region, state and country to implement the National Wildfire Cohesive Strategy, which aims to increase the pace and scale of fuels treatments across the region.

Our Goal:

Facilitate a renewed approach to our relationship with fire in the North Bay area -- one that acknowledges our fire-adapted and fire-dependent landscapes and incorporates this understanding into all aspects of our regional culture.

Our Objectives:

  • Engage the public and media in fire ecology and fire preparedness education and outreach
  • Work in coordination with diverse agencies and land managers throughout the region to design and implement fuels treatments, including prescribed burning, mechanical thinning, grazing, and browsing
  • Establish and conduct extensive scientific monitoring protocol for fire and fuels treatments effects

Additonal Reading: National Wildfire Cohesive Strategy brochure (pdf).

ACR's Fire Ecology Program is funded in part by the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, CAL FIRE and its California Forest Improvement Program, The Nature Conservancy, and US Forest Service - Region 5.  

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Frequently Asked Questions About Fire and Fuels Management

Why is fire important to the ecosystem? Fire is a core ecological process in most California ecosystems. For thousands of years, Native Americans utilized fire in California as a tool to manage landscapes for food, textile production, and improved wildlife habitat. In the North Bay specifically, nearly all of our terrestrial ecosystems depend on site-specific fire regimes. Here, plant species are nearly all adapted to specific fire types and animal species depend on effects of fire to thrive and coexist in balance. The healthy function of our ecosystems cannot be untied from this core ecosystem process. After over a century of fire suppression, however, California landscapes are in a dire fire deficit. Where fire has been long suppressed, we struggle with threatened human safety as tremendous wildfires become imminent in the face of accumulating fuel loads and lengthened fire seasons. Fire agencies, land managers and researchers have learned over recent decades that fire cannot be prevented, only postponed, often with drastic consequences. 

How safe are controlled burns? No fire is completely safe. However, because they are carefully monitored and managed, controlled burns rarely create unintended consequences. In 2012, for example, the National Interagency Fire Center reported that 16,626 controlled burns treated 1,971,834 acres. Of those 16,626 fires, only 14 exceeded the defined perimeter (0.08%). ACR, in collaboration with CalFire and local fire departments, will have adequate resources on site to quickly control any unexpected condition.

What about the smoke? Controlled burns are managed to minimize smoke impacts. Smoke and emissions from controlled burns are significantly less negatively impactful than those from wildfires. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District has strict controls on when prescribed burns may occur in order to ensure that weather conditions are appropriate to dissipate the smoke. We will not be able to proceed with the burn until we get a green light from the Air District the morning of the burn. Additionally, if smoke somehow unexpectedly becomes a public health problem, contingency response plans are in place to reduce smoke problems, which include extinguishing the fire if necessary.

What about animals living in the burn zone? Animals that live in California’s landscapes coevolved with regular fires in their native habitat. Many of these animals even depend on fire to maintain their habitat. During a burn, research has shown that ground burrowing animals typically survive fires by staying in their burrows until the fire has passed.

Additionally, in the year following a controlled burn in grassland or oak savannah, an increase in the presence of deer is commonly noted due to improved forage quality.

Further Reading:

About Dr. Sasha Berleman, ACR Fire Ecologist
Dr. Sasha Berleman leads ACR's Fire Ecology Program. She has her PhD in wildland fire science from UC Berkeley. She conducted her graduate research on prescribed fire use in California landscapes for restoration of ecosystem health. She has been an active participant in Prescribed Fire Training Exchanges (TREX) since 2010, with most being located in Northern California (Shasta, Trinity and Klamath regions). She is a wildland firefighter with “Fire Effects Monitoring” and “Squad Boss” qualifications. She spent summer 2017 on the Redding Interagency Hotshot Crew and has approximately 600 hours of hands-on prescribed fire experience. Sasha is a board member of the Central Coast Prescribed Fire Council.  reach Sasha by email at sasha.berleman@egret.org.