In 2018 the Tahoe National Forest (TNF) fire, fuels, and environmental coordinator staff partnered with staff from the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, the Nature Conservancy, Sierra Forest Legacy and the Fire Restoration Group with support from the Central Sierra Zone Ecologist Becky Estes and atmospheric scientist Leland Tarnay, to explore the idea of jumping ahead of the lengthy forest planning process and amend the 1990 Tahoe National Forest-Forest Plan to allow the management of wildland fire (natural ignitions) for multiple resource benefits where appropriate on the Tahoe National Forest landscape.
After seeing interest in the idea, we formed an informal work group to take on the multitude of issues which need to be addressed when deciding to manage a wildfire for resource benefits versus managing a wildfire to suppress the event. We spent over a year of addressing the Need for Change of the TNF Forest Plan which currently requires suppression of wildfires greater than 5 acres across the forest. The group felt very strongly that with over 100-years of fire suppression and fire exclusion (little intentional lighting) plus the increased threat of climate warming and the likelihood of higher forest water deficits, that we needed all the tools in the “toolbag” to address restoration of fire as the critical natural process that could reduce surface and ladder fuels and restore fire resilience.
Following the year of fire research and landscape assessment work, key stakeholder meetings, and five public scoping sessions in late January 2020 the Tahoe National Forest, hopefully, will have a broader authority to manage wildfires for resource benefits on the public’s land, embedded in a newly amended forest plan, before the fall 2020 wildfire season.
The national Guidance for Implementation of Federal Wildland Fire Management Policy (2009) is the national policy document that grants authority to managed natural ignitions for resource benefits when appropriate. It also grants authority to move from suppression to active lighting (or not) as seen fit by the fire managers, when managing a natural event. The 2009 policy is signed by the USDA-Forest Service, Dept. of Interior, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, National Fish and Wildlife Service-Refuge System, Bureau of Indian Affairs, DOI-Aviation Mgt. Dir., and the National Wildfire Coordinating Group.
The 2014 National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy also refers to the use of natural ignitions (wildland fire) being managed for resources benefits and that the authority must be adopted into the existing forest plan of the units where the event occurs.
Managing lightning-caused wildfire under the appropriate conditions would enhance community and firefighter safety, protect watershed values and wildlife habitat, and restore forest resilience by reducing the build-up of dead and down fuels, which in turn would reduce the threat of high-severity wildfire.
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