Prescribed Fire

Latest news:

November 8, 2021

An important new report, "Public Health Impact of Prescribed Fire: Report on Listening Sessions with Community Members, El Dorado and Nevada Counties, California," has just been released. Below are some excerpts from the summary:

"In December 2020, the California Department of Public Health held virtual Listening Sessions with residents living in Nevada and El Dorado Counties, of the Sierra Nevada foothills, to gauge community knowledge, attitudes and perceptions of the health impacts of prescribed burns, and
messaging preferences.

"Participants voiced strong support for prescribed fire as a means to reduce the life-threatening risks presented by wildfires, while emphasizing the importance of safety measures. Most participants reported experiencing negative health impacts from smoke exposures, with wildfire smoke being considered a more significant threat than prescribed fire smoke. Residents in these high wildfire risk areas described experiencing anxiety when they smell smoke, creating a compelling need to quickly determine whether the source is wildfire or prescribed fire. The desire was expressed for a centralized source for authoritative, accurate information.

"The overall feedback from residents was that more notification for prescribed fire is needed. They also perceived a need for alternative communication methods, such as phone or text, as many areas lack quality internet. Participants felt that increased education about prescribed fire should be implemented to improve support for and understanding of the practice. They advocated both a broader public media campaign as well as local community educational activities."

Citation: Hoshiko, S., Mello, A., Jones, CG., Prudhomme, J. (2021). Environmental Health Investigations Branch, Center for Healthy Communities, California Department of Public Health. Public health impact of prescribed fire: Report on Listening Sessions with community members, El Dorado and Nevada Counties, California. California Department of Public Health, Richmond, CA.
Correspondence: Sumi Hoshiko,

Download the report here.


May 1, 2020

In an early response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Forest Service in California recently issued a region-wide ban on prescribed fire on National Forest lands, causing widespread concern and prompting our coalition to take action. Read the letter we sent to Region 5 Director Randy Moore on April 27, regarding the decision, and the agency's announcement on May 1 that the prescribed burning program would continue. We are grateful for the Region's response.

By contrast, Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen sent a letter to all of the Forest Service regional foresters and station directors in June directing them to establish a policy of full fire suppression for the 2020 wildfire season in response to COVID-19. This means that all unplanned ignitions on national forests, even those in remote roadless areas, will be suppressed this year regardless of whether they might achieve beneficial fire effects.

About Prescribed Fire

Please 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 unneccesary losses of life and property from uncontrollable fire.

"Prescribed" burning is defined as “fire applied in a knowledgeable manner to forest fuels on a specific land area under selected weather conditions to accomplish predetermined, well-defined management objectives” (from A Guide for Prescribed Fire in Southern Forests). Fire managers may choose to closely monitor naturally started fires, ignited by lightning, to meet specific resource objectives. This type of fire management is called wildland fire use, or managed fire, and is also considered prescribed fire even though naturally caused. In the National Parks of California many lightning-caused fires are allowed to burn and die naturally each year, regenerating the forest and reducing future risks.

On public lands, prescribed fires are used to manage vegetation to reduce hazardous fuels (needles, brush, downed woody material, etc.) so that future fires do not become large, uncontrolled events that devastate the forest and threaten air quality for extended periods. At the same time, ecological objectives for maintaining species diversity and evolutionary processes can only be met through the use of fire, either through managed wildland fire use or prescribed fire. In the Sierra Nevada, research has shown that national forest lands will not be resilient to climate change and adverse effects from projected future fire increases unless significant changes are made to increase the use of managed fire.

Learn more:

The Fire MOU Partnership

In 2015, twelve organizations comprised of state and federal land and resource management agencies, environmental groups, and regional prescribed fire councils, came together to pledge their commitment to advancing the use of prescribed fire for ecological benefit and improved fire management. They included the U.S. Forest Service, Sierra Forest Legacy, Cal Fire, The Wilderness Society, The Nature Conservancy, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, National Park Service, Northern California Prescribed Fire Council, and the Southern Sierra Prescribed Fire Council. Today the number of partners has grown to 32. Read more about the Fire MOU Partnership here.

Download this presentation, Increasing Pace and Scale of Fuels Reduction and Forest Restoration in the Sierra Nevada, by Malcolm North, April Brough, Jonathan Long, Brandon Collins and Marc Meyer (USFS PSW, USFS Region 5, and UC Berkeley).

Watch the video Catching Fire: Prescribed Burning in Northern California, produced by the Klamath-Salmon Media Collaborative and the Orleans/Somes Bar Fire Safe Council. Also check out the other fire-related links here on our website, and be sure to visit the California Fire Science Consortium website as well.

Training Exchanges (TREX)

The Forest Service and the California Department of Fire and Forestry (CAL FIRE) seek to increase the pace and scale of restoration to return forest and woodlands to a fire resilient condition. In order to increase the pace and scale of treatments, we must also develop the capacity to use fire safely and effectively. As training exchanges are becoming more popular in the western United States, it is clear that increasing cooperation and coordination is essential in creating robust fire programs. Training exchanges provide high quality training opportunities that support partnership development among diverse fire practitioners and increased capacity through cooperation.

The Northern California Prescribed Fire Council hosted two prescribed fire-training events in 2014. In 2013, the trainees participated in a total of 17 prescribed burns and treated more than 450 acres in the Region. For more information on training exchanges contact Lenya Quinn-Davidson

Also see "Prescribed Fire Councils" here on our website. Visit the Fire Learning Network for current information about upcoming TREX events.

Current SFL Supported Large Fire Restoration Projects

Inyo National Forest January 6, 2020

The Inyo National Forest is proposing to undertake the Eastern Sierra Fire Restoration and Maintenance project. The project area encompasses the eastern Sierra Nevada mountain range from Lundy Canyon in the north to the Kem Plateau and Kennedy Meadows in the south. The eastern extent ofthe project encompasses the Mono Craters, Glass Mountains, and portions of the Benton Mountain Range. Read Sierra Forest Legacy and Friends of the Inyo comments on the project submitted January 6, 2020.

Eldorado National Forest 
Visit the News and Event page for more information and to subscribe to updates

Caples Creek Watershed Fuels Reduction and Meadow Restoration Project -- 8800 acres  
Placerville Ranger District, Eldorado National Forest
For more information and project description, you can download the detailed proposal here. Scoping for the project was announced on March 19, 2015. You can also download our support letter here. Check in with our webpage for the project here; we will update this with news about the project as it progresses.      

Sierra National Forest June, 2018

The Sierra National Forest is proposing the first ever forest-wide prescribed burning program. The agency is currently preparing the environmental NEPA analysis for burning to restore natural ecosystem processes and the natural resilience to fire that our forests evolved with. Read more about the project here, and read our coalition support letter and comments here.
Visit the News and Event page for more information and to subscribe to updates


Select References --Also view additional papers here.

Fire MOU - Signed November, 2015. See web page here for updates.

2016 group scientists' letter re: The fire challenge: Increasing fire use for natural resource benefits, carbon stability and protection of public health. Jan. 22, 2016. Sent to USDA, US EPA, USDI, and CEQ.

Keeley, Jon E., Anne Pfaff, and Anthony C. Caprio. 2021. Contrasting prescription burning and wildfires in California Sierra Nevada national parks and adjacent national forests. International Journal of Wildland Fire 30:255-268. (731KB PDF)

Long, J.W., Tarnay, L.W., and M.P.North. 2017, in press. Aligning Smoke Management with Ecological and Public Health Goals. J. Forestry 115:000-000. Published online January 19, 2017.

North, M.P., A. Brough, J. Long, B. Collins, P. Bowden, D. Yasuda, J. Miller, and N. Sugihara. 2015. Constraints on mechanical treatment in the Sierra Nevada. J. of Forestry 113(1):40-48.(779 KB PDF)

Also see summary of the above paper in Research Brief for Research Managers, California Fire Science Consortium.

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.P., S.L. Stephens, B.M. Collins, J.K. Agee, G. Aplet, J.F. Franklin, and P.Z. Fule. 2015. Reform forest fire management - Agency incentives undermine policy effectiveness. Science 349(6254):1280-81 (625 KB PDF)

Ryan, K.C., Knapp, E.E., and J. Morgan. 2013. Prescribed fire in North American forests and woodlands: history, current practice, and challenges. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 11: e15–e24. (1.3 MB PDF)

Schweizer, D. et al. 2017. Using National Ambient Air Quality Standards for fine particulate matter to assess regional wildland fire smoke and air quallity management. J. Env. Mgmt. 201 (2017) 345-356.

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.

Silvas-Bellanca, Karina. 2011. Ecological Burning in the Sierra Nevada: Actions to Achieve Restoration. White Paper produced by Sierra Forest Legacy.

Sneeuwjagt, R.J., Kline, T.S., and S.L.  Stephens. 2013. Opportunities for Improved Fire Use and Management in California: Lessons from Western Australia. Fire Ecology 9(2):14-25. (363 KB PDF)

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), art9. (2.19 MB PDF)