California Licensed Foresters Association

The California Licensed Foresters Association, with a membership responsible for the sustained management of millions of acres of California forestland, represents the common interests of California Registered Professional Foresters.

The Association provides opportunities for continuing education and public outreach to its membership, which includes professionals affiliated with government agencies, private timber companies, consultants, the public, and the academic community.

Governed by an elected Board of Directors, CLFA was established in 1980 after the passage of the landmark California Professional Foresters Law.

2015 Fall Workshop

RPF Exam Prep


September 2015
Clayton Code

Every year, particularly around this time of year, fire is the hot topic. Each spring we hear CAL FIRE’s public service reminders: “It’s been a dry spring, fuels are primed to burn, this is going to be an exceptional fire season” or “It’s been a wet spring, the grass is lush, when it dries out this is going to be an exceptional fire season”. We all chuckle that regardless of the conditions it is ex-pected to be an exceptional fire season. Is there truth in both scenarios? I think there is.

Earlier this year I did some digging into publically available information (FRAP & MTBS) to better understand the nature of fires on forested land-scapes. What I found surprised me a little.

Through the 20th century FRAP data indicates an average of 630 fires per decade with the most active decade being the 1920’s (858 fires) and the least active decade being the 1960’s (395 fires). Since the 1960’s the number of fires has been steadily increasing to more than 1,000 fires in the first decade of the 21st century. When one considers that many fire experts be-gan their careers during California’s least active decade in terms of number of fires it is reasonable to under-stand how recent fire seasons are viewed as being exceptional, there are simply more fires now than when they started their careers.

A common assertion made is that catastrophic “mega” fires are unprecedented. Six fires (1910, 1990, 1999, 2002, 2012, 2013) greater than 100,000 acres have occurred on forested landscapes. 154 fires between 15,000 and 100,000 acres have occurred on forested landscapes between 1910 and 2013. To say that cata-strophic “mega” fires are unprecedented, when looking at the data, may not entirely be true. FRAP data shows that large fires occur with some regularity throughout California’s recorded history. What is unprec-edented is the proportion of forested landscapes burned by fires greater than 15,000 acres. Prior to the 1960’s roughly 30% of forested landscapes burned by fires greater than 15,000 acres, after the 1960’s roughly 60% of forested landscapes have been burned by fires greater than 15,000 acres.

Another common assertion is that “mega” fires are catastrophic. This turns out to be only partially true. MTBS (Monitoring Trends in Burn Severity) mapped burn severities for fires over roughly the same time period as FRAP. Analyzing this data I discovered that the proportions of fires’ footprints that resulted in stand replacement was similar for small fires compared to big fires. Fires less than 15,000 acres resulted in 36% of the fires’ footprints being stand replacing, where fires greater than 15,000 acres resulted in 41% of those fires’ footprints being stand replacing. The catastrophic nature of “mega” fires comes when one con-siders the cumulative effects of these large fires. The total number of acres of stand replacement resulting from large fires is equal to the entire area burned by small fires. The cumulative footprint of fires less than 15,000 acres is 1.6 million acres (576,000 acres of stand replacement), whereas large fires account for 1.6 million acres of stand replacement (3.9 million acre cumulative footprint).

But what does it all mean? It is clear that larger fires are occurring with greater frequency causing dramatic chances on the landscape, and there is reason to expect this trend will continue. Also, there is an undisputa-ble fact; fires are a natural part of California’s landscape. Our forests have evolved over the centuries to survive and thrive under the fire regimes. As forestland managers, we have to work with nature, not against it. We must advocate and implement management actions that take natural fire regimes into account. A balance must be struck between what some landowners and the general public would like forests to look like and what nature wants them to look like. Only a small number of landowners have the capacity to in-fluence the behavior of individual large fires. This does not mean that smaller landowners’ management actions do not matter.

Regardless of how we got here, our forests are not in a condition consistent with natural fire regimes. Individual projects, regardless of scale, will provide localized benefit by attempting to mitigate losses should a fire impact that landowner. Cumulatively, the more landowners that manage their properties being respectful of natural fire regimes will eventually lead to landscape benefits.

CLFA’s September workshop is being offered to further awareness of managing with nature, not against it. We’ve attempted to bring together the most knowledgeable people with respect to pre-fire, during fire, and post-fire. All three (pre-, during-, post-) are equally important to mitigating resource losses as a result of wildfire. From managing to create stand conditions conducive to reducing the intensity of fires, to understanding how to interact with incident commands, to rehabilitation after the fire there is much we all can learn and share.

The greatest benefit of CLFA workshops is the sharing of ideas thoughts and experiences of all that are there. Even if you think managing for natural fire regimes do not apply to your scope of practice, or you think you know everything you need about managing for fires, there is more we all can learn from each other. I look forward to seeing everyone in Auburn on September 25th where we all can work together to take some heat out of this hot topic.