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Regenerative Land Management Practice Highlight: Prescribed Burning

Prescribed Fire workshop

Fire can be scary, but it can also be good for our lands and forests if done right. Burns are a natural disturbance in our ecosystem; yet, some land managers have spent decades excluding fire attempting to prevent wildfires. Lack of fuel management has led to unhealthy landscapes where trees are stressed by overcrowding; fire-dependent native species disappear; invasive species thrive; and flammable fuels build up and become hazardous. With that being said, prescribed and controlled fires are a sustainable solution to these conditions created through fire suppression.


Prescribed burns are carefully planned. Specialists write burn plans where they identify the best conditions under which trees and other plants will burn to get the best results safely. They consider all aspects of the weather conditions, including: temperature, humidity, wind, moisture of the vegetation, and conditions for the dispersal of smoke. By using these conditions to determine the right day, time, and location to burn, prescribed fire specialists can help landowners burn safely.

There are many ways people can become more educated on prescribed burns. If you feel prepared to try this management tool on your land you can apply for a burn permit. These permits will allow you to burn only natural vegetation or native growth, or if the amount of material from a single property cleared and burned annually is greater than 5 cubic yards. Find more information on open burning here. It is also essential to contact your local Air Pollution Control District and your local fire department. Undergoing Wildland FireFighter Type 2 training is a great way to become knowledgeable of how to control fire on your land. In order to help shine more light on prescribed burning, its benefits, how to implement and practice burns, and hear different stories, we interviewed four different people on their experiences with prescribed burning. You can read their stories below. 

Sashwa Burrous - Landowner

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Sashwa Burrous is a West County raised filmmaker and photographer. He enjoys gardening, farming, spending time with his family, and surfing. He is also the co-founder of the Cold Water Collective. He started doing prescribed burns on his land about two years ago, and has now burned up to 5-6 acres of his 10 acre parcel. Beforehand, Sashwa did the Wildland Fire Type 2 training. It included 40 hours of online training and one field day. This was one of the most useful tools for his prescribed burning process: knowledge. The ability to burn safely was something he learned from his Wildland FFT2 training. Sashwa has also thought about how the Miwok and Pomo tribes practiced prescribed burns on their land in the past. He then came to the realization that our suppression of fire has left the land incapable of handling it during wildfires, thus creating the disastrous outcomes we have seen in the past couple of years.

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Bringing fire back to the land, in the form of prescribed and controlled burns can reintroduce the land to fire, help restore the land, and even prevent larger fires from happening. With all of that said, Sashwa also prioritizes considering the current environmental conditions of the land he’s burning on. For instance, he practices something called PATO: Patient and Thoughtful Observation. He suggests taking a deep breath, walking your land and learning your land. For example, before any mechanical thinning or burning, he looks around for spotted owls, newts, and other wildlife in the habitats around his land. He also recommends checking in with neighbors, and starting conversations with them about fire. By giving them insight, even inviting them to watch or participate, he began to combat the negative stigma that has developed towards fire on land. Sashwa said that our community needs to develop a better relationship with fire, for control or prescription fire is better than having a wildfire take down the land. Starting these conversations can make way for increased fire education, something he considers to be of high importance when it comes to regenerative land management practices.


Some resources Sashwa recommended are the Good Fire Alliance (the Sonoma County Prescribed Burn Alliance) and Fire Forward (specifically Audubon Canyon Ranch). These organizations can help you safely get fire on your land, can help educate you on how to create burn plans, and more! Sashwa is currently working on a video series that can help educate landowners on prescribed burns, subscribe to our newsletter to find out when it’s ready for you all to watch! 

Briana Boaz - Educator

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"Little fire prevents big Fire"


Briana Boaz is the Natural Resource professor and Program Coordinator at Santa Rosa Junior College. She helps run the Wildfire Resilience Program, which supports 20 interns working to bring fire back into the ecosystem at Shone Farm. Shone Farm has a 120-acre forest that is a typical Sonoma County forest - it has not been well managed and has a build up of wildfire fuels... It was great to hear the incredible work that Briana and the program interns are doing on the first 30-acre burn unit in the Shone forest . They are doing fuels reduction and thinning work to prepare it for a prescribed burn. She described it as “empowering to give students impacted by fire, control over the situation of fire”. The forest has responded well to the pile burns and thinning. As the canopy has opened up, understory diversity has been coming back. In Briana’s eyes, the benefit of their work and the work of prescribed burning is that it is a natural disturbance in the ecosystem that naturally clears out dead and dying material and depletes the seed banks of invasive species. Briana unfortunately has had experience having to evacuate and realized that everyone in this county has been impacted by wildfire. Through this program, she has decided to do something about it. 

Michael Jones - Leader

Michael Jones is the UC Cooperative Extension Forest Advisor for Mendocino, Lake, and Sonoma Counties. He is also the founding member of the Mendocino and Lake County Prescribed Burn Associations and Co-Chair of the Sonoma Good Fire Alliance. Needless to say, if you are, or want to get involved with prescribed burn associations in the North Bay area, Michael Jones is one of the people you might want to contact. A Prescribed Burn Association, or PBA for short, is a grassroots community of neighbors helping each other and others safely put good fire on the ground. Anyone from the community can join a PBA. Through collective knowledge, experience, and resources, the PBA community can help folks learn about prescribed fire, how to navigate the permitting and planning process, how to find and connect with resources, and how to safely implement a burn or get involved with burn projects. Jones mentioned that the PBA movement has been guided immensely by Lenya Quinn-Davidson, UCCE Fire Advisor for the North Coast Area, who looked at models similar to PBA’s in other parts of the United States - where community led prescribed burning practices have been around for a while - and reintroduced the model back to California. We are grateful for their work in bringing this practice back to California.

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Jones has mentioned that anyone who wants to learn more about prescribed burning, should check out and join their local PBA. It is important to get people on the fire line and give them experience in putting good fire on the ground. To him, burning is a transformational process, and getting people directly involved can help change their perceptions. He acknowledges that we as a society are not fire adapted but since we live in a fire adapted ecosystem, we must figure out how to coexist with fire in a sustainable way. 

Che Casul - Landowner

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Che Casul is a 7th generation county rancher in Sonoma County and the CEO of Circuit Rider Community Services, a local nonprofit that teaches youth about fire fuel mitigation and ecological restoration practices through paid vocational training. Che’s appreciation for the land has come from his generations of tending to the landscape and a deep appreciation that what one does to your land today will echo through the generations that come after. As a youth Che would participate in his grandfathers controlled burns using the discarded match from his grandfather’s lit tobacco pipe and a shovel to keep the flame lengths under control, “highly scientific prescribed burn techniques” as Che likes to describe it. Although fire used to be a frequent occurrence on this land, it had become something the public was understandably nervous about and resulted in a generation of fire suppression. After the devastating wildfire season in 2017, prescribed burns made their way back into practice as a mitigation tool. Che is trained as a Wildland FireFighter Type 2 and continues his families legacy of controlled burns on the family ranch and in the community as a volunteer. With his experience, Che has learned that getting a pile burn permit with a smoke exemption allows you to burn up to 3 acres on private land without the red tape surrounding larger prescribed burns. This tool is one of the easiest ways to get started with burning on private property. Prior to burning, Che advocates for grazing and some mechanical thinning to properly prepare the land. He calls these the three legs of the fire mitigation stool: grazing, manual thinning, and prescribed fire. Managing your land with these three practices can help reduce nonnative invasive plants, mitigate fire risk, help with regeneration of the land, and cultivate a healthy ecology.

Che is a strong advocate for active land management and suggests that those who are interested should feel more welcome to ask questions and get involved, reach out to their local air quality control districts, and volunteer with Fire Forward and other Prescribed Burning Alliances to help them get a better understanding of prescribed burns. Che also suggests becoming trained in Wildland Firefighting through these programs. This can help community members better understand the proper conditions for wildland burning and develop the skills necessary to practice prescribed burns on private land while increasing the population of potential volunteers should a wildfire come calling. 


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