Opinion, Siskiyou

Is Prescribed Burning Oversold?

Smoke plumes from the Camp Fire, the costliest natural disaster worldwide in 2018 and the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California’s history.

California contains 93-million acres of which, approximately 20-million acres is choked with annual grass and brush wildfire fuels. 

And much of that 20-million acres is in very difficult remote terrain that is not suited to mowing or livestock grazing. Oregon contains about 45-million acres and of that about 15-million acres is remote and very difficult terrain, also filled with annually-occurring grass and brush wildfire fuels.

American taxpayers need to start asking these questions before it’s too late.

What has caused the over abundant grass and brush wildfire fuels across western landscapes?

Numerous published peer-reviewed studies state: A collapsed herbivory leads to catastrophic wildfires due to un-grazed grass and brush fuels.  That situation can be reversed by reestablishing the native herbivory. 

*Once the herbivory has collapsed, how often does a wilderness landscape producing annual grass and brush have to be burned?

Generally, on landscapes lacking proper herbivore populations, it only takes 2-3 years after a prescribed burn or wildfire for grass and brush to reestablish itself and become over-abundant. 
That means the same landscapes would have to be burned repeatedly, which devastates soils, hydrology and the flora and fauna.
There are essential two kinds of large herbivores in North America today:
*Horses, which are not ruminants, and therefore don’t digest most of the seeds of native plants and grasses they eat. Horses reseed and fertilize the landscapes where they graze, which benefits the ecosystem.

*Cattle, sheep and goats, which like deer are ruminants. They digest most of the seeds they eat, ending the life-cycles of the grasses and plants they eat, thereby denying essential sustenance for other animals, including insects and pollinators. Numerous scientific studies show this harms and degrades ecosystems.

California’s deer population has collapsed over the past few decades and is currently down about 2-3-million animals. These missing deer had been grazing-off about 3.6-million tons of grass and brush (each deer consumers about 1.2 tons per year).

The collapsed herbivory in California and Oregon assures that these wildfire fuels will continue to remain a serious fuels hazard on the landscape.

*Is profit driving the prescribed fire (aka: Rx Fire) narrative? 

Prescribed burning has become a multi-million dollar annual business for both private and public sectors. But the metrics and science show it’s both a dangerous and inadequate band-aid to a problem that has a cost-free nature-based solution via the reestablishment of the native herbivory. 

More at this insurance analyst link: https://www.ambest.com/video/video.aspx?s=1&rc=wildhorses323

*How many acres can realistically be burned annually in California and Oregon? 

California Governor Gavin Newsom bragged about prescribed burning 90,000 acres of the 20-million acres at risk in CA, as if it was some huge accomplishment. Even if that was true, it amounts to a minuscule fraction of what would be needed, even if was safe and practical.

The Guardian looked into Newsom’s claim and learned it was a lie, and that he only actually conducted prescribed burning on 11,400 acres.

Read more here: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/jul/02/gavin-newsom-california-fire-prevention-investigation

*How much smoke can humans and wildlife (and some crops, like grapes) withstand? The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) https://oehha.ca.gov/climate-change/epic-2022/impacts-human-health/wildfire-smoke

*Smoke from wildfires (and prescribed burning) is already adversely impacting human health. 
Is it wise to add more smoke to the air that humans are breathing? 

Info from the EPA:https://www.epa.gov/wildfire-smoke-course/why-wildfire-smoke-health-concern

Info from Yale Medicine: https://www.yalemedicine.org/news/how-bad-is-wildfire-smoke-for-your-health

Info from American Heart and Lung Assn: https://www.lung.org/blog/how-wildfires-affect-health#:~:text=Wildfire%20smoke%20can%20be%20extremely,protect%20yourself%20from%20wildfire%20smoke.

*And what about the impacts of adding even more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere?

CalMatters:  https://calmatters.org/environment/2023/09/california-wildfire-smoke-climate-change/

*Is it environmentally legitimate or even possible to burn millions of acres just in California every two or three years?

Arguably, some people making money off prescribed fire think it’s a good idea.

*Are taxpayers willing to spend $-hundreds of millions annually for prescribed burning, year after year for a tiny band-aid on the bleeding artery?

Taxpayers can barely shoulder the existing costs and losses due to annual wildfires.

*Are Prescribed Fires effective or just a tiny band-aid on a big problem best solved with other natural cost-effective means?

There are opinions arguing against prescribed burning from several relevant and science-based perspectives:

The Hill: https://thehill.com/opinion/energy-environment/562167-the-problems-of-prescribed-fire/

Pagosa Daily Post: https://pagosadailypost.com/2023/01/06/opinion-are-prescribed-burns-the-silver-bullet/

*Are prescribed fires damaging the soils of our wilderness areas?

Science says even low intensity fire is damaging the landscape.

Most Range Management Plans (RMPs) already take into consideration that prescribed burns cannot be conducted on lands with collapsed herbivories that are suffering from abnormally high grass and brush fuel levels. 

These government agency RMPs specify that prior to any prescribed burning, ‘pre-treatment’ must be undertaken otherwise the heat of the fire could severely damage the landscape. 

Here is an except from the Range Management Plan (‘RMP’) for the Cascade Siskiyou National Monument, Page 33, ‘Prescribed Fire’:

“In many cases, fire cannot safely and effectively be reintroduced to the landscape without prior treatments to thin small trees or remove excessive brush and understory fuels. Without prior treatment, the energy release from prescribed fire as the initial treatment would exceed desired intensity levels and have undesirable effects on vegetation and soil.”

Pre-treatment (aka: ‘prior treatment’) is a very expensive and time-consuming operation that realistically can only be done across a very limited number of acres per year.

And considering the total number of acres (9,750-acres), where treatments have been accomplished over seven (7) decades of time, cited on page-199 (image below) of the proposed updated RMP for the CSNM, pre-treating and prescribed fire is obviously a very poor solution. 

And as cited in the BLM’s own RMP studies and documents, prescribed fire without the required ‘pre-treatments’ results in devastating impacts:

“In many cases, fire cannot safely and effectively be reintroduced to the landscape without prior treatments to thin small trees or remove excessive brush and understory fuels. Without prior treatment, the energy release from prescribed fire as the initial treatment would exceed desired intensity levels and have undesirable effects on vegetation and soil.”

Moreover, new science informs us that even low-intensity fire damages soils, as we read in this article:


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *