Why do Prescribed Burns Threaten Chaparral?
1. Chaparral is threatened by too much fire.
Safford, H.D. and K.M. Van de Water. 2014. Using Fire Return Interval Departure (FRID) Analysis to Map Spatial and Temporal Changes in Fire Frequency on National Forest Lands in California. USDA. PSW-RP-266.
2. Unseasonal fire can eliminate chaparral.
Cool season burns cause significant damage to plant growth tissues and destroy seeds in the soil due to soil moisture turning into steam. The result? As can be seen in the photo of a hillside in Pinnacles National Park, California, unseasonal fires can lead to immediate type conversion to a non-native weedlot. This was the site of a cool season prescribed burn in the late 1980's. The chaparral was destroyed and has never come back.
3. Prescribed burns escape, threatening communities and causing significant ecological damage.
2000 Cerro Grande Fire, Los Alamos, New Mexico. 48,000 acres burned, more than 280 homes lost. 2006 Sierra Fire, Cleveland National Forest, CA. 10,854 acres burned. 2012 Creek Fire, Montana de Oro State Park, CA. 103 acres burned. 2013 San Felipe Fire, San Felipe Valley Wildlife Area, CA. 2,781 acres burned. See below.
Why the National Park Service does NOT use prescribed fire
in the Santa Monica Mountains
When Prescribed Fires Go Wrong
The San Felipe Escaped Fire
We visited the burn site and have obtained documents relating to the fire from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife which has jurisdiction over the Wildlife Area. Here are our findings: - the rationale for the Project was ecologically unsound - claims that the Project would reduce wildfire impacts and provide indirect community protection to Julian and Shelter Valley are unsupportable- the Project and the escaped fire caused significant environmental damage to a protected, rare, and environmentally sensitive habitat- fire suppression activities damaged riparian areas and possibly cultural sites - the Project violated the Dept. of Fish and Wildlife’s 2009 Land Management Plan for the San Felipe Valley Wildlife Area- Cal Fire violated its burn prescription plan- Cal Fire appears to have ignored a National Weather Service Wind Advisory on the date of the burn
In light of these conclusions we recommend the establishment of an official protocol for both the Department and Cal Fire to determine the efficacy and ecological impact of major vegetation treatments that includes an independent, outside review of projects while in the initial planning stages.