The Klamath-Siskiyou Fire Reports is a program of Klamath Forest Alliance. Our reports explore the ecology and management of wildfire in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains. After exhaustive on-the-ground monitoring of fire effects, weather conditions and management actions, followed by an extensive document review, we conduct detailed analysis and publish comprehensive reports following large wildfires in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains. Our goal is to document the impacts of fire suppression, the benefits of managed wildfire and reform of fire suppression policy.
Klamath-Siskiyou Fire Reports explore the following topics:
The Klamath-Siskiyou Fire Reports document actual, on-the-ground fire effects in contemporary wildfires throughout the landscape. We have studied wildfires on the Klamath River, the Rogue River, in the Kalmiopsis Wildlands, and the high country of the Marble Mountains, Russian Mountains and the Siskiyou Crest. Our findings demonstrate that characteristic fire effects are dominating contemporary wildfires, with weather, terrain and previous management practices driving fire severity.
We use our findings to inform forest management, fire management, post-fire management, and the debate surrounding wildfire in the West. We have documented beneficial fire effects in many wildfires throughout the Klamath-Siskyou Mountains. This demonstrates that managed wildfire can be used to restore habitat conditions, reduce fuel loading, limit future fire severity and encourage fire-adapted plant communities.
Fire Suppression Impacts
For over 150 years some level of fire suppression has influenced the landscape. The suppression of fire began with the removal of Indigenous burning in the 1850s and continued into the 1940s, when after the development of rappel crews and smoke jumper bases in Cave Junction and Scott Valley, widespread fire suppression in remote backcountry areas became possible and somewhat successful. Our federal land managers declared a war on wildfire, seeking to suppress every lightning strike and human ignition by 10 AM the next morning. As the years past, technology advanced, new tactics, strategies and tools were developed and a more sophisticated industrial fire suppression complex was developed to “fight” fires throughout the west.
Today, fire is fought with toxic chemicals, air tankers, large helicopters, drones, bulldozers, fellerbunchers, infrared technology, and thousands upon thousands of ground crews who build firelines, hold firelines, conduct large-scale tactical firing operations, run tenders and fire engines, protect homes, navigate media attention and manage public opinion. Active fire suppression is a complex, necessary and often dangerous activity with substantial environmental impacts.
Over the years our Klamath-Siskiyou Fire Reports have documented hundreds of miles of bulldozed fireline. These firelines destroyed intact native plant populations, rare plant populations, spread noxious weeds, compacted soils, impacted archeological sites, degraded Wilderness Areas, Roadless Areas, Botanical Areas, Wildlife Areas and other protected conservation areas. We have also documented fire retardant dropped in streams, bulldozed firelines, helicopter pads and hoist sites built in Riparian Reserves and miles of instream wood removed from intact “reference streams.” We have also documented widespread removal of large snags and trees in Riparian Reserves, Wilderness Areas and Roadless Areas.
In many cases, the environmental impacts associated with discretionary fire suppression activities are damaging and long lasting, while the wildfire itself was restorative and ecologically beneficial. In fact, the impact of aggressive fire suppression has become the most common, pervasive and long-lasting impact to our federally protected Wilderness Areas, Roadless Areas and other conservation areas. KFA is working to reform fire suppression policy by promoting Minimum Impact Suppression Tactics (MIST), managed wildfire in backcountry areas, the minimization of fire suppression impacts and a more restorative approach to fire suppression activities.
Although the effective protection of homes, communities and public safety should be our highest priority, substantial opportunities exist to minimize our environmental impacts and utilize fire management as a restoration tool in backcountry areas. We believe this opportunity extends to even full suppression fires.
Restorative Fire Management
Restorative Fire Management (RFM) utilizes MIST tactics, wildland fire use, full suppression strategies and a realization that wildfire can be utilized for resource benefits if managed correctly. Restorative Fire Management seeks to restore the process of fire to as many acres as is responsible, necessary and beneficial in each fire event. Backburning and fire use during suppression activities should be conducted with natural, fire-generated patterns and mosaics in mind. Backfiring operations that include ignition from the bottom of steep slopes should be discontinued due to the propensity of such techniques to initiate high-severity fire events and threaten nearby communities.
The concept of “loose herding” and “indirect containment” are especially useful to fire managers looking to utilize Restorative Fire Management techniques when suppressing a fire or managing wildfire for resource benefit. A “confinement” strategy can be useful in Wilderness Areas and Roadless Areas or in those that border private residential lands by confining the fire into the wildland and extinguishing the fire as it approaches communities or infrastructure. Consistent with current fire management policy, any given fire can be managed through a variety of appropriate management strategies. For instance, one fire perimeter could be managed utilizing a full suppression strategy while other perimeters could be “loose herded” into wildland habitats.
Managed Wildfire should be considered for fires burning in more remote, backcountry locations. This would free up resources to facilitate the protection of homes and communities, while encouraging fire-adapted communities in backcountry areas and moderating the severity of future wildfires. Managed wildfire is the only management tool available to land managers that will restore natural process, reduce fuel loading and encourage fire-adapted plant communities across the vast landscape of the west. It is also the only management tool that can restore function and biodiversity to fire-adapted landscapes. Managed wildfire has the potential to treat more acres, more effectively than any other land management tool available, with less environmental impact.
Fire management should, first and foremost, focus on protecting communities and residences while incorporating the principals and objectives of forest restoration, fire restoration, and in many cases, fuel reduction. Prescribed fire and managed wildfire should be encouraged and fire safety needs balanced with the need for characteristic fire effects on the landscape. Agency firefighting personnel could steer fire away from areas and resources likely to be negatively impacted by fire and encourage areas that may benefit from fire to burn at characteristic fire severity levels. Overtime, this strategy will build resilience, aid in future fire containment, reduce environmental impacts and reduce costs to taxpayers.