Fire in the Eastern Sierra
The forests of the Sierra Nevada have undergone a transformation over the last century due to human fire suppression. Lightning strikes are common in the Sierra and historically brought low intensity fires that burned small trees, litter, and brush, creating open space for native grasses and wildflowers. Indigenous communities throughout the Sierra used fire to manage food production and encourage the growth of critical plants. In several locations in the Sierra fire is still used today by these communities. Today, public land managers and scientists are studying the role of fire in the Sierra and are committed to understanding how best to achieve fire restoration and protect our remaining healthy forests from catastrophic wildlife.
High intensity fires are occurring more regularly and are burning larger and hotter, threatening communities, wildlife, water quality, and other aspects of forest ecology. Ongoing smoke from these fires compromise the outdoor tourism economy and community health. These fires are a product of a changing climate, but also of many decades of fire suppression that was once thought among land managers to be necessary for the health of the forest. For various reasons, fire suppression in Eastern Sierra forests has only occurred for about 50-60 years, creating a window of opportunity for the Inyo National Forest to restore historic fire regimes if we can act quickly over the next decade.
We advocate to create fire-safe communities and increase community resiliency by increasing the pace and scale of fire restoration in the Eastern Sierra. The Inyo National Forest recognizes the need to restore fire and has recently been implementing prescribed fire and fuels treatments. However, to be ecologically meaningful, larger landscape level (500-1,000+ acres) burning must occur on a yearly basis with follow up treatments and monitoring. Ecological objectives for maintaining species diversity and evolutionary processes can only be met through the use of fire, either through managed wildland fire use or prescribed fire. Under the new Forest Plan, the Inyo has taken a bold step in the right direction by proposing a forest-wide prescribed burning and restoration program over the next decade. Friends of the Inyo fully supports this effort and is seeking to work with the Inyo through a collaboration of fire scientists and policy experts to achieve meaningful restoration goals linked to desired conditions in the Forest Plan. Friends of the Inyo will also help the Forest with public communication on the benefits of fire and living with smoke when burning conditions are favorable.
Learn more from this downloadable
presentation, Increasing the Pace and Scale
of Fuels Reduction and Forest Restoration in the
Sierra Nevada, by Malcolm North, et al.
(USFS PSW, USFS Region 5 and UC Berkeley)