Loss and Learning From Fire

Loss and Learning From Fire

Riddell First Burn ! 4.25.07 008a

Fire—it is on everyone’s mind in northern California. We all, likely, know someone who has a friend or family member affected by the recent Valley Fire. And, fire is closer to home in more ways than simple geography.  The recent rains dampened the ground – but failed to dampen our worry as the temperatures climb again and the drought looms.

Fire is an extremely relevant factor for all land managers - including LandPaths - with our charge to steward over 1,400 acres comprising five Preserves across Sonoma County.  For LandPaths, fire connects directly to our work beyond managing land — to including a reckoning of how we are intertwined with nature surrounding our cities and rural homes.  All the ways fire impacts our work might be surprising to some – from conversations with volunteer leaders around BBQs and campfires, to multi-year fuel load reduction as part of our standard stewardship work, and emergency response when out in the field with our county’s youth.

Last week, at a Bohemia Action Team (BAT) meeting, LandPaths staff and volunteers decided to relocate the fire ring, and discussed revisions to a draft campfire protocol.  Our work at Bohemia Preserve is relevant to our neighbors next door at the Bohemian Grove - who are also working towards a fire safe(r) forest, old growth characteristics and in the context of human habitation.  Our work is a balancing act of fire safety on one side and connecting people with nature through a primal experience gathering around the hearth.  Needless to say, right now, safety of people-structures-trees is paramount.  And yet the dynamic tug in our minds and actions continues: are we part of nature or separate from it?

Reducing the risk of catastrophic crown fire is not in any ways news to Jim and Betty Doerksen – our partners at Rancho Mark West.  They have been hard at work for nearly 50 years working their land so that native species can thrive (including fish), while reducing the fuel loads and ladders that can transition a slow-moving, and in many ways beneficial ground-fire into what incinerated portions of the forest to the northeast of us this past week. 

Just this month, LandPaths Stewardship Coordinator Erin Mullen presented our Fuel Load Reduction work on Fitch Mountain to the City Council of Healdsburg.  This summer LandPaths employed a crew of teens from the Summer Youth Ecology Corps program – in addition to four seasonal interns - from the Santa Rosa Junior College to address fuel load accumulating at several of our preserves.  Needless to say, despite the heat and (for most, likely) the hardest physical work they ever dreamed they’d encounter in their young lives, mountains of exotic broom were pulled, ground level fuel was chipped and distributed, and an incredible service was provided to both the native wilds and the humans that live in proximity to it. 

This week, Erin again will join the quarterly Friends of the Grove (FOG) meeting, discussing fuel load reduction at the Grove of the Old Trees. LandPaths has worked with neighbors for the past 10 years reducing fuel ladders in the Grove.  Properties such as the Grove and Fitch are particularly sensitive, as they are close and surrounded by homes, families, pets - things we hold dear as humans—home. 

Infused with this work is also the idea that one day we may consider fire as part of our management, as in the carefully applied use of controlled burns. As many of us have begun to realize and Native People practiced for hundreds (thousands?) of years, fire has long been a part of our continent’s ecological functioning.  We can see it at the Grove of the Old Trees in the fire scarred trees, made more palpable because you can walk inside a tree as a result.  Just as wildlife corridors and watersheds are ecological processes that cross boundaries regardless of land use, fire is also. The goal is how to manage land to be more resilient to wildfire.  Ultimately, LandPaths' work must continue to encompass whether by direct partnership on the ground or the sharing of information, not only the acres and parcels so legally defined as ‘ours’, but on the lands surrounding these acres.  This is nature’s scale, interconnected, continually changing and adapting – and a lesson for us as land stewards and students of the natural world.  

Posted at 11:42

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