Fire in the Eastern Sierra

What’s Happening

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.

Why It Matters

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.

What We’re Doing About It

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.

Take Action

Learn More

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)

Read More

Read our Eastern Sierra Fire Restoration
and Maintenance project comments.

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Updates

Forest Service Ending Regional Closure Order Two Days Early; Five Forests (NOT Inyo Nat’l. Forest) to Remain Closed Under Local Orders

The USDA Forest Service Pacific Southwest Region will end the regional closure order affecting National Forests in California at 11:59 pm on Wednesday, Sept. 15, two days prior to the original end date of Sept. 17. However, forest-wide closures will remain in place and be extended until midnight on September 22nd on the Los Padres, Angeles, San Bernardino, and Cleveland National Forests in Southern California due to local weather and fire factors, as well as a temporary strain on firefighting resources supporting large fires in other areas of the state.

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Wildfires Now Behave Differently at the Sierra Crest

This article analyzes how wildfire behavior is changing with the Caldor and Dixie fires, and highlights how change in high elevation Sierra ecosystems may remove a historic buffer for wildfires. “What’s unique about both these fires is that the fires have burned up into very high elevation in the Sierra Nevada,” Clements said. “One reason that likely is the drought, lower snowpack . . . those higher elevations are drying out sooner, so, your fuel-moisture content in those plants are drier — and we predicted that in April that this was going to be the case.” read more…

Locals Brace for Fire Threat From Adventure Travelers | Adventure Journal

Just in time for the summer surge in tourism, Astra Lincoln beautifully summarizes the issues faced when fire policy, recreation, and land management intersect in the Eastern Sierra. Astra worked multiple past seasons as a Trail Ambassador for Friends of the Inyo. In Mammoth Lakes, California, a town in the Eastern Sierra known for its skiing and outdoor recreation, tourism has been booming. The town’s residents are terrified. After 2020’s landscape-altering fire season, in which 4 percent of the total area of California burned, Mammoth Lakes locals are keenly aware that rises in tourism come with unique wildfire risks. There…

Fire Restoration and Maintenance Program Comments

These comments to the Inyo National forest address the scoping period for the Eastern Sierra Fire Restoration and Maintenance Project. Topics include ways to encourage public comment, integrate Fire Management Zones, policies of fire as first entry and tree mortality, design features of the program meeting best practices, staffing, mowing in Jeffery Pine habitats, Tribal partnerships, and air quality considerations with the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District.