It has been a BUSY fire season for all the folks on the Grandfather Ranger District who are involved in fire management. With fires burning on our district earlier this summer, and an intense fire season out west, we have had a lot of employees out on fire assignments (myself included).
There are many functions for fire personnel working on large fires, from those on hand crews digging lines, to firefighters working on fire engines, to finance personnel, to command staff. My job on large fires is as a Public Information Officer. Public Information Officers work to provide up to date fire information to local communities and media, as well as provide a look into the world of wildland firefighting.
One of the videos that I made while working on the Bald Knob wildfire on the Grandfather Ranger District looked at a National Forests in North Carolina type 6 wildland fire engine. This engine is used for wildfire and prescribed fire on our district. It is very different than the typical large structure-protection fire engines we see driving around town! Grandfather Ranger District Employee and Engine Boss Renardo Knight shows us around his engine in this video. Check it out!
One of the goals of the Grandfather Restoration Project prescribed fire program is to reduce wildfire risk. While this is a local goal, it is also being emphasized both regionally and nationally. The National Wildfire Management Cohesive Strategy, often simply referred to as Cohesive Strategy, is an effort on behalf of federal, state, local, and tribal governments and non-governmental organizations to collaboratively address growing wildfire problems in the U.S. It is a strategic push to work collaboratively among all stakeholders and across all landscapes, using the best science, to make meaningful progress towards the three goals:
- Resilient Landscapes
- Fire Adapted Communities
- Safe & Effective Wildfire Response
The vision of Cohesive Strategy is “to safely and effectively extinguish fire when needed; use fire where allowable; manage our natural resources; and as a nation, to live with wildland fire.”
In the last few years, more than 1000 individuals have provided comments, participated in forums, meetings, or responded to online survey requests which have helped guide the Cohesive Strategy process in the Southeast. Direction for the implementation of Cohesive Strategy in the Southeast comes from the Regional Action Plan. The plan contains 23 actions with 124 separate implementation tasks, grouped around five values and a set of identified barriers to success. A selection of the Regional Action Plan items which relate to the goals of the Grandfather Restoration Project’s focus on ecosystem restoration and the utilization of prescribed fire include:
- Support the creation of tools to better inform decision making processes and localized trade-off analysis for all levels of fire and land managers as well as planners and policy makers (what specific data means to managers, not just regional analysis of these data).
- Develop and sustain capability and capacity requirements to plan and carry out landscape treatments, including prescribed fire.
- Increase public awareness to ensure public acceptance and active participation in achieving landscape objectives.
- Encourage planning efforts across landscapes between practitioners and land managers to address wildland fire, landscape resiliency and community safety while balancing other concerns and emphasizing plan development in high risk areas.
- Work with regulatory agencies and entities (i.e., air quality) to ensure that prescribed fire remains a viable management tool and maximize flexibility for its use (including liability issues).
- Encourage greater public smoke awareness through outreach and understanding.
- Control invasive species that alter fire regimes and ecosystem function.
- Support efforts to increase prescribed burning for ecosystem restoration.
- Promote and use fire to emulate natural disturbance patterns to maintain and improve ecological systems, balancing social, cultural, and economic needs, especially over large contiguous landscapes.
- Remove policy barriers and process complexities which affect the ability to effectively and efficiently share resources, not only for wildfire, but for fuels and prescribed fire work
Achievement of the Regional Action Plan is a lofty endeavor that will no doubt take extraordinary collaboration, which is the primary intent behind Cohesive Strategy. To read more about regional Cohesive Strategy efforts click here.
Restoring historic fire regimes is a landscape scale issue. With a century of fire supression, an estimated 80% of U.S. forests and rangelands have altered fire dynamics. Beyond just restoring fire-adapted ecosystems on the Grandfather Ranger District, the Grandfather Restoration Project and its partners are part of a larger landscape group working on restoring historic fire regimes to the Southern Blue ridge Mountains: The Southern Blue Ridge Fire Learning Network (FLN). Organized by The Nature Conservancy, the Southern Blue Ridge FLN is a network of federal, state, and and non-profit agencies who are sharing their knowledge and experience in reintroducting fire into the Southern Blue Ridge landscape through prescribed burning. The group shares research, monitoring results, and management stratigies at an annual workshop, held this year in Cashiers, NC.
Mark Hall, South Carolina Parks and Recreation, talks about his experiences with prescribed burning in Jocassee Gorges State Park
Along with sharing sucess stories and challenges, presentations at the workshop focused on buidling capacity for prescribed burning programs, the effects of prescribed burns on wildlife — everything from salamanders to birds to small mammals, and creating fire-wise communities. More information can be found on the Southern Blue Ridge FLN workshop website.
The Grandfather Restoration Project is getting recognized throughout North Carolina for leading the way in prescribed burning in mountain ecosystems. The senior forestry operations class from North Carolina State University (NC State) Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources toured the Grandfather Ranger District in April, visiting a prescribed fire unit near dobson knob and viewing wildfire effects in the Linville Gorge Wilderness.
NCSU Forestry Operations class atop Pinnacles in Linville Gorge