Speaker address a crowd from a podium
The Sierra Institute's Jonathan Kusel discusses wildfire management at a Nov. 16 panel hosted by the Institute of the Environment.

California's Fire Future Addressed at Institute Events

Increasing Beneficial Fire, Alleviating Bottlenecks, and Improving Forest Management are Among the State's Needs

Quick Summary

  • Jonathan Kusel, Lenya Quinn-Davidson, and Willie Whittlesey discussed California widlfire management at an Insitute of the Environment wildfire panel Nov. 16. The Institute also sponsored a speaker forum at the Paradise Revival Festival Nov. 5.

Wildfire is on the top of many peoples’ minds in California. And with that focus comes a wealth of difficult questions.

How can California dramatically increase uses of beneficial fire to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires? How can the state improve labor bottlenecks and increase the speed and scale of forest management practices that reduce the destructiveness of wildfires? What are the policy challenges? What happens to vegetation that’s cleared or felled in order to reduce the fuel loading? Can we find ways to turn that vegetation into more jobs for rural communities?

These are some of the questions addressed by Jonathan Kusel (Sierra Institute), Lenya Quinn-Davidson (UC Extension), and Willie Whittlesey (Yuba Water Agency) at the UC Davis Institute of the Environment’s Fire, Forests, and the Future: Advancing Rural Communities in California panel Nov. 16.

Here are some of the  key takeaways from the discussion:

  • We need to better manage our forests, which have become problematically dense over decades of fire suppression. Dense vegetation conditions/fire suppression combined with the warmer, drier conditions caused by climate change have resulted in forests that burn hotter and faster, creating megafires that are more destructive and harder to manage.
  • Even when flush with money and partnerships, agencies face hard realities in fulfilling national and state environmental processes and reviews, which can delay action. The progress we need to achieve in the area of land management for fire mitigation requires an all-hands-on-deck approach and will demand concerted investment from many different sectors, including academia, and grassroots organizing.
  • Prescribed Burn Associations (PBAs) and Prescribed Fire Training Exchanges (TREX) mobilize citizens and give them the tools to lead and participate in beneficial burns. We need to scale up trainings and get more burn bosses certified. Local/grassroots efforts change the culture of fire management for the better by supporting more diverse participation.
  • Reducing biomass in forests creates the potential for economic growth, and additional sawmills are needed for us to meet that potential. A few things that can be done: building additional housing, producing flame retardants from biomass waste to make houses that are fire-resistant, and burning biomass to produce hydrogen and liquid transportation fuels.

The panel came on the heels of the Paradise Revival Festival, which commemorated the four-year anniversary of the 2018 Camp Fire. On Nov. 5, hundreds of people gathered at the Terry Ashe Recreation Center in Paradise, California, to honor the loss associated with the Camp Fire and also celebrate community resilience and a hopeful future. A Regenerative Speaker Forum, sponsored by the Institute of the Environment, included both local and regional experts on wildfire recovery.

“Fire has always been here, Indigenous people know how to live with fire, colonizers never learned how to live with fire," Ali Meders-Knight, Mechoopda Tribal member and Director of California Open Lands said about the importance of Indigenous knowledge when it comes to land management. "Let us acculturate with each other, we have knowledge we can share, you have knowledge you can share. It is time for everyone to learn how to live on this land.”

Collection of photos of speakers at the Regenerative Speaker Forum