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By: Hugh Safford, USDA Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Region & Michelle Coppoletta, USDA Forest Service, Plumas National Forest. Research Natural Areas (RNAs) are often selected to exemplify minimally disturbed ecosystems where ecological processes can proceed unencumbered with minimal human intervention. Ideally, such areas serve as properly functioning reference landscapes for land managers. However, most RNAs have been modified to varying degrees by past and ongoing actions, most notably fire management. These factors, in combination with a changing climate, compromise the usefulness of the RNA system as a reference network and underline the importance of considering natural disturbance in RNA stewardship. We examined 64 RNAs on National Forest System lands in California to assess departure from their natural (pre-Euro American settlement) fire regime in terms of fire frequency and severity. We found that more than two thirds of the area encompassed by RNAs in California exhibit moderate to high departure. Of these, 87% are burning much less frequently than they would have under their presettlement fire regime and 13% are burning much more frequently. Seventeen RNAs in erstwhile frequent-fire ecosystems have not had a fire recorded within their boundary since prior to 1908 and 50% of the area has not burned in at least 109 years. We present case studies that demonstrate where recent wildfire has had positive and negative effects on the target element in RNAs, as well as areas where fire management actions, if implemented in the near future, could effectively maintain the conditions for which the RNA was set aside. We suggest that a re-examination of the strictly hands-off approach that has characterized RNA management is required.
By: Jim Bishop. Fire Behavior Analyst - CalFire (retired) The behavior of wildfires is determined by the “fire environment”: terrain, fuels, and weather. It can vary from smoldering to raging, from benign to destructive. Understanding how wildfires behave is basic to understanding fire control, fire effects, the beneficial use of fire, and the nature of threats to property such as homes. Fire behavior is a key to understanding and addressing the “fire problem”. This overview will introduce you to how the fire environment affects fire behavior…the roles of humidity, solar heating, fuel type, seasonal drying, slope and wind. We’ll consider typical fire rates-of-spread values, how fire will respond to changing conditions, and some common weather processes. We’ll take a look at the role of fire behavior in such things as presumed “natural” fire levels and in fire line accidents. Jim Bishop retired from a career in Cal Fire, much of which was spent in wildland fire control and training. He is trained as a Fire Behavior Analyst (FBAN) and has filled that position on major fires and prescribed burns, has taught in several national fire-behavior courses, served on the FBAN steering committee, and has developed materials used in those courses. He developed and taught a simplified method for applying the standard fire-behavior model for use by firefighters on the fire line.