Prescribed Burns Vital to Forest Health

QUINCY, California -- May 19, 2016 -- Plumas National Forest Prescribed Fire Program Management Officer Ryan Bauer is no stranger to fire—he’s had 21 seasons of experience fighting it. Sometimes, that means fighting fire with fire.

“People have heard of prescribed burns,” said Bauer. “But not everyone knows that the right fire now can prevent the wrong fire later.”

Bauer oversees around 20 prescribed burns each year, which are carried out by PNF fire crews.

While prescribed burns tend to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire, prevention isn’t the only reason they’re used, or even the primary reason.

“Up in the Sierras we live in a fire-adapted ecosystem,” said Bauer. “This means that nearly every species of plant and animal we see in the forest was shaped by frequent fire during the history of its development.”

Not every species adapted to fire in the same way, said Bauer. Some developed heavy defenses that allow them to survive a moderate intensity fire, while others developed seeds that hide underground and sprout after a fire. Other plants regenerate from their root systems after a blaze.

A common misconception, according to Bauer, is the idea that prescribed burns destroy forests and habitat. In reality, carefully managed fire usually eliminates smaller trees and brush that may compete with larger trees for vital resources, like water and soil nutrients.

“This helps restore the natural fire cycle, which these trees are used to,” said Bauer. “The overall effect on the health and resilience of the ecosystem is positive.”

Prescribed fire is carefully planned. Often, candidate areas are identified years in advance, and precise tactics are defined ahead of time to account for terrain, weather, and fuels.

“A history of fire suppression has removed fire’s vital contributions from the landscape, and prescribed burns are a way to bring it back responsibly,” said Bauer.

Private landowners have used prescribed fire on their own property to contribute to overall fire-safe forest management, and in some cases the Forest Service can provide assistance and information to landowners considering prescribed fire. Always carefully consider the risks associated with using fire as a management tool before burning. Landowners with questions can visit for more information, or contact a local PNF ranger district:

Beckwourth Ranger District: (530) 836-2575

Feather River Ranger District: (530) 534-6500

Mt. Hough Ranger District: (530) 283-0555