Fire Management Science

There is a significant fire deficit on national forests in the Sierra Nevada. Managed (prescribed) fires alone are not enough to address the overwhelming area that needs to be burned to meet ecological objectives. Our discussion should move towards how national forests need to manage with fire at every opportunity to actively restore the Sierra Nevada flora, fauna, and fire- dependent species. The U.S. Forest Service Region 5’s statement of “Ecological Restoration: Leadership Intent” provides direction to restore forest ecological function creating greater resiliency. Resiliency refers to the ability to resist disturbance changes that would otherwise result in permanent or long term ecological degradation. Restoring the fundamental process that has shaped the Sierra Nevada is much more than just a fuels reduction story. 

Ecological Burning CoverEcological Burning in the Sierra Nevada: Actions to Achieve Restoration is a synthesis of the current scientific literature on fire and reports on the status of ecological burning in the Sierra. There is a backlog of acres needing to be burned across the Sierra Nevada and prescribed fire alone is not getting the job done. This white paper is intended for education purposes and to aid in the development of necessary actions for land management agencies to move towards restored and resilient forest ecosystems. Click here to download the white paper.

Sierra Forest Legacy supports increasing the use and support of ecologically appropriate fire in the Sierra Nevada.  We propose the following key actions to land management agencies in support of this goal:

  • Collaboratively develop a large-scale pilot project to conduct managed fire;
  • Manage the landscape to produce low, moderate, and high severity fire effects within the historic range of variability;
  • Utilize the Forest Service’s strategic management response policy in all fire events;
  • Ensure adequate staffing year round to accomplish burns; and increase public education for the critical role fire plays in restoration efforts in the Sierra Nevada.  

The key scientific papers noted below provide a framework for discussions on the importance of fire as an ecological process and the multitudes of benefits that fire provides to all facets of our forests. Please also visit Sierra Forest Legacy's Fire Ecology pages with links to additional fire science.

Please also explore all the pages in the "In this section" menu to your left. Managing fire and prescribed fire are the theme of this section of our website, and each page has additional information and links to science literature, policy documents, etc. relating to prescribed fire and its vital role in the health and ecology of the forests of the Sierra Nevada--and its role in preventing tragic and unnecessary losses of life and property from uncontrollable fire.

Also check our Community Protection fire science section, you will find additional information and research to learn about preventing damaging losses to human resources from wildfire.

Key References

Collins, B. M., Everett, R. G., & Stephens, S. L. 2011. Impacts of fire exclusion and recent managed fire on forest structure in old growth Sierra Nevada mixed-conifer forests. Ecosphere, 2(4), Article 5, 1-14.

North, M., Stine, P., O’Hara, K., Zielinski, W., and Stephens, S.  2009.  An Ecosystem Management Strategy for Sierran Mixed-Conifer Forests.  Gen.  Tech.  Rep.  PWS-GTR-220.  Albany, California: U.  S.  Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station. 

North, Malcolm, ed. 2012. Managing Sierra Nevada Forests. Gen. Tech. Rep. PSW-GTR-237. Albany, CA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station. 184 p.

North, M., Collins, M., and Stephens, S. 2012. Using fire to increase the scale, benefits, and future maintenance of fuels treatments. J. For. 110(7):392–401 (302 KB PDF).

North, M., et al. Tamm Review: Reforestation for resilience in dry western U.S. forests. 2019. Forest Ecology and Management 432:209-224.

Schoennagel, T., Balch, J.K., Brenkert-Smith, H., Dennison, P.E., Harvey, B.J., Krawchuk, M.A., Mietkiewicz, N., Morgan, P., Mortiz, M.A., Rasker, R., Turner, M.G., and C. Whitlock. Adapt to more wildfire in western North American forests as climate changes. PNAS. Released for early edition. doi:10.1073/pnas. 16174641114.

Stephens, S.  L., Martin, R.  E., and Clinton, N.  E.  2007.  Prehistoric fire area and emissions from California’s forests, woodlands, shurblands, and grasslands.  Forest Ecology and Management 251(3): 205-216.

Stephens, S.L. et al. 2014. Temperate and boreal forest mega-fires: characteristics and challenges. Front Ecol Environ 2014; 12(2): 115–122.

Webster, K. M., & Halpern, C. B. 2010. Long-term vegetation responses to reintroduction and repeated use of fire in mixed-conifer forests of the Sierra Nevada. Ecosphere, 1(5), Article 9.