Fire has emerged as a priority issue facing natural resource managers and communities in California and throughout the U.S. For over 100 years, a legacy of fire suppression has removed the natural and vital role of fire in our ecosystems. Many forests need fire to be healthy. Fire suppression removed this needed element at a broad scale, directly contributing to the conditions that cause large-scale wildfire– overcrowding, declining forest health, and the significant accumulation of surface and ladder fuels. This practice of fire suppression has directly resulted in severe and long lasting negative effects to forest health, and the extreme risk of large-scale wildfires that transform landscapes and threaten the safety of communities.

In Trinity County alone we’ve seen over 650,000 acres burned by wildfire over the last 20 years. The fallacy of our suppression-only fire policy now permeates our lives, borne out in the large-scale wildfires that damage forests, sap economic resources, and threaten communities every year.

In order to fix these problems, we need a drastic change in how we approach fire. Recognizing its essential role in forest health is essential—some natural, practically managed fire is necessary in order to avoid the damaging impacts of large-scale wildfire. Learning to live safely with wildland fire has proven the only way forward.

To address these challenges, the Watershed Center has reimagined our relationships with fire. We are working with local, regional and national partners to build new fire management strategies that connect the leaders in this field to practitioners and communities through networking and coalition building, training, learning and information exchange, and collaborative planning.

We are helping to pioneer these efforts through on the ground implementation of fuels reduction and ecological restoration treatments with an eye towards reintroduction of fire as a critical ecosystem process and management tool. By providing opportunities for learning, training and demonstration, we are laying the foundations for a new generation of fire management that will restore ecosystems for current and future generations and set a trajectory for sustainability.