Fire is a natural part of the environment and benefits many forests. Prescribed fires have long been used to encourage growth of beneficial and native plant species and reduce the amount of combustible vegetation that could fuel catastrophic wildfires. Thousands of prescribed fires are carried out across the country every year, and they are integral to forest restoration and stewardship.
Coast redwoods are highly adapted to fire. Their thick bark and high canopies provide protection from the flames, and new seedlings establish in post-fire conditions. Throughout the redwood range, Native Americans frequently used fire to maintain hunting grounds and travel corridors, promote the growth of plants used for basketry materials, and sustain food sources such as tanoak acorns.
Many redwood forests likely experienced regular fires. The forest underwent dramatic changes over the last century because of logging and fire suppression. Today, an important and developing restoration strategy is the reintroduction of fire and other processes that promote forest health. Prescribed fire can be used in previously logged, second-growth forests to meet restoration goals such as creating scars and snags where wildlife can live. These fires can open up growing space, placing the forest on the path to become the extraordinary old-growth forests of the future.
Prescribed fire requires collaboration from many organizations, careful planning and skilled practitioners. During a brief window in October 2016, many controlled burns were carried out on more than 2,800 acres of Redwood National and State Parks (RNSP) in Northern California. In the parks, prescribed fire is predominantly used as a management tool to restore and maintain prairie ecosystems and oak woodlands scattered throughout redwood forests. Every year RNSP has increased the capacity to use fire and is developing more prescribed fire plans in redwood forests.
Andrew Slack joined Save the Redwoods League in 2016 as a Forest Fellow after earning a master’s degree in forestry and fire ecology from Humboldt State University. He is working on restoration projects on the North Coast of California with League collaborators.
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