|A TREX participant igniting a night burn at the Rainbow Mine on South Russian Creek near Sawyers Bar, California. October 2015.|
This past week I attended the Klamath River TREX, a prescribed fire training program facilitated by a coalition of partners in Northern California, including the Mid-Klamath Watershed Council, the Salmon River Restoration Council, Northern California Prescribed Fire Council, the Nature Conservancy, the United States Forest Service, Cal Fire and others. The project implements prescribed fire for fuel reduction and community safety on private and tribal lands. Currently, the Klamath River TREX is running prescribed fire crews in Happy Camp and Orleans on the Klamath River, and near Sawyers Bar on the Salmon River. I was working with the good folks on the Orleans and Salmon River crews, on the Bacon Flat, Butler Flat, and Rainbow Mine Burn Units. All units were safely and successfully conducted by hard working locals, professional firefighters, and burn bosses.
The TREX program offers private landowners the opportunity to implement prescribed fire treatments on homesteads and adjacent to communities, while providing training and experience to local residents and fire professionals. The program has brought experienced fire professionals, tribal leaders, and local residents together to learn, burn, and protect rural communities. Most of those involved are volunteering their time and resources in a grassroots effort to restore fire.
|A cool night burn on the Rainbow Mine consumed understory fuels and maintained fire safe conditions near private residences. October 2015.|
The concept is to allow prescribed fire treatments to reduce fuels and maintain habitat conditions adjacent to rural communities, enabling wildfires to be managed for resource benefit in the backcountry. This is especially important in the Klamath River watershed where large swaths of roadless and wilderness lands can be found in or adjacent to the Trinity Alps Wilderness, Russian Wilderness, Marble Mountains Wilderness, and the Red Buttes Wilderness.
These large and invaluable wilderness resources are threatened nearly annually by discretionary fire suppression tactics, including fireline creation, high severity backfiring, and other forms of impactful fire management. These areas are also impacted by fire suppression and its influence on natural fire regimes, vegetative structure and composition. By maintaining fire-resilient and fire-adapted landscapes near human communities, these impacts can be greatly reduced and more backcountry wildfires can be allowed to burn.
The Klamath River TREX is also located within Native American country, traditionally and currently inhabited by the Karuk Tribe. The TREX program is coordinated with Karuk tribal members and authorities, implementing significant cultural burns, such as the annual Tshaniik Burn, at ceremonial grounds near Orleans, California.
Folks on the Klamath are building resilience in their forests and communities through the utilization of fire. They are also reinitiating a long tradition of fire that has been central to the subsistence, ceremony, and culture of the Karuk Tribe.
For time immemorial fire has played a moderating role in forest ecosystems and maintained culturally significant resources, including wild game, basketry materials, indigenous plant-based foods and medicinal herbs in the Klamath River region.
Wildfires have also burned in the summer months due to frequent seasonal thunderstorms and lightening ignitions. These fires burn at mixed severity. The mixed severity fire regime in the Klamath Mountains is one of the most complex, fire-adapted systems in the west, promoting high levels of pyrodiversity. Combined with steep environmental gradients, diverse geology, a transitional climate, and high levels of landscape connectivity, the region is a hotspot for biodiversity.
|Klamath River TREX: Bacon Flat Prescribed Burn near Orleans, California. October 2015|
It is vital to our human communities and fire-adapted forests that we build a more productive and interactive relationship with fire. We must strive to promote more natural fire regimes, plant communities, and habitat conditions, while protecting communities at-risk to wildfire related impacts. These are the goals of the TREX program. Goals that have been achieved successfully this fall in the Klamath River country. For more information about the Klamath TREX program check out the following links: Salmon River & Orleans Complexities facebook page, The Mid-Klamath Watershed Council Prescribed Fire Program webpage, or the Catching Fire Movie made about previous TREX programs.