Fire Management of California Shrubland Landscapes
Fire management of California shrublands has been heavily influenced by policies designed for coniferous forests, however, fire suppression has not effectively excluded fire from chaparral and coastal sage scrub landscapes and catastrophic wildfires are not the result of unnatural fuel accumulation. There is no evidence that prescribed burning in these shrublands provides any resource benefit and in some areas may negatively impact shrublands by increasing fire frequency. Therefore, fire hazard reduction is the primary justification for prescription burning, but it is doubtful that rotational burning to create landscape age mosaics is a cost effective method of controlling catastrophic wildfires. There are problems with prescription burning in this crown-fire ecosystem that are not shared by forests with a natural surface-fire regime. Prescription weather conditions preclude burning at rotation intervals sufficient to effect the control of fires ignited under severe weather conditions. Fire management should focus on strategic placement of prescription burns to both insure the most efficient fire hazard reduction and to minimize the amount of landscape exposed to unnaturally high fire frequency. A major contributor to increased fire suppression costs and increased loss of property and lives is the continued urban sprawl into wildlands naturally subjected to high intensity crown fires. Differences in shrubland fire history suggest there may be a need for different fire management tactics between central coastal and southern California. Much less is known about shrubland fire history in the Sierra Nevada foothills and interior North Coast Ranges, and thus it would be prudent to not transfer these ideas too broadly across the range of chaparral until we have a clearer understanding of the extent of regional variation in shrubland fire regimes.
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