Craig Thomas started the Fire Restoration Group after his retirement from Sierra Forest Legacy in December, 2018, where he was a co-founder and formerly executive director, and conservation director. Craig founded the Fire Restoration Group to expand efforts to integrate fire policy with fire ecology, and to promote science-based management of fire and forests in California.
In the West, fires are burning today at higher intensities and larger spatial scales than in the recent past. With the attempted removal of Native Americans and their cultures of extensive burning, coupled with roughly 120 years of active fire suppression, we are experiencing an unraveling of ecosystem stability. This comes at a time when climate change is exacerbating drought and extending fire seasons.
But there is good news. Policy makers, land managers, and the public are becoming increasingly aware of what fire scientists have been telling us for decades. By increasing the use of beneficial fire, we can restore our forests and return them to a fire resilient state, reduce fire threats to homes and communities, and reduce overall smoke exposure--all while enhancing wildlife habitat and biodiversity. Transitioning to a culture that is accepting of the beneficial use of fire has the potential to produce significant opportunities, particularly among our youth, in jobs that are meaningful, outdoors, and focused on our public lands and rural communities where there is the greatest need to build fire resiliency--and where unemployment is high. Community fire resiliency work also promotes community cohesion and cooperation, something that is going to be important in the coming decades in the face of climate change. The success of prescribed burn associations, where community members share labor and tools to accomplish needed fuel reduction work through prescribed fire on private property, and the community cooperation emerging in Fire Safe Councils is evidence of this positive trend.
Scientists are clear that we are in a severe deficit of "good fire." Prior to 1800 approximately 4.5 million acres were burning in California annually, half of which were from tribal burning. Today our forests are two to three times more dense than they were historically. While we are not returning to the 1800s, we need to extensively restore fire on the California landscape as a pathway to resilience.
Living with Fire has become the new mantra for science-based resource management. This is not exclusive of community wildfire protection and state-of-the-art collaborative smoke management strategies to protect public health, but is embedded in these twin needs. We must bring science, societal license, cultural awareness and fluency, and the skills together to return California to a fire and climate-change resilient home for our citizens and the plants and animals that share this landscape.
The Fire Restoration Group is committed to integrating fire policy with science-based and socially responsible use of fire in the restoration of the fire-associated forest landscapes of California.
Craig Thomas is the principal team member for the Fire Restoration Group. We work with and are assisted by advisers and colleagues throughout the fire restoration community, including academia and public resource management agencies.
The Fresno Bee: Living with fire in California: A little smoke now prevents a lot more later June 16, 2018.
The Mammoth Times: Lions Fire—Coming to terms with fire, smoke, and cultural change in California fire policy. July 6, 2018.
Image right: Press conference in the Capitol for Wildfire Awareness Week, May 2, 2016 with staff from US Forest Service, CAL FIRE, the Office of Emergency Services, and NGOs. L-R front row: John Laird, Natural Resources Secretary, Governor Jerry Brown, Ken Pimlott, CAL FIRE chief. Craig Thomas is in the middle behind Gov. Brown and Mr. Pimlott.
Listen to interview with CAL FIRES's Ken Pimlott, USFS' Rob Griffith, and Craig Thomas, Wildfire Awareness Week on Capitol Public Radio, May 8, 2017.
Watch the TEDx Berkeley Talk, “Wildfires in California: Friend or Foe?” by fire scientist and director of the UC Berkeley Fire Center, Professor Scott Stephens, April 2019.
Wildfire Awareness Week, May 2, 2016
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