Last week, California fire agencies and several private environmental groups announced their intent to cooperate on educating the general public about the value of prescribed burns.

Cal Fire and the U.S. Forest Service, along with the U.S. National Park Service and Sierra Forest Legacy, the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, the Wilderness Society, the Nature Conservancy, the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Northern California and the Southern Sierra Nevada Prescribed Fire councils signed a memorandum of understanding this fall.

“It was originally two parties and broadened,” said Randy Moore, Forest Service regional forester for the Pacific Southwest Region. “One purpose is to increase the use of fire.”

Essentially, he characterized the collaborative effort as “using the right fire in the right place at the right time.”

The intent of prescribed burns is to help the forest ecosystem. Fires are a vital part of nature and help control the overgrowth of forest land, which can lead to extreme conflagrations.

The private environmental agencies will work to reduce the barriers to using prescribed burns as a fire-prevention tool. The organizations will use their educational programs to explain the benefits of these controlled burns.

Moore pointed to three main goals, each consistent with the agency’s “National Cohesive Wildland Fire Strategy.” The first is restoration and maintenance of landscape. The other two are to help fire-adapted vegetative communities and to mitigate the strength of wild fires.

“This is about how can we bring prescribed fire back to landscapes so we can reduce the intensity of fire and restore a more natural fire regime,” said Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott. “We will amend the state fire plan to incorporate and increase use of prescribed fires.”

Prescribed fires are different depending on whether they are being conducted in Southern or Northern California, according to Stanton Florea, fire information officer for the Forest Service in California. They are addressed in the land management plans for the four southern forests — Angeles, Cleveland, Las Padres and San Bernardino.

Also more acreage is usually burned in the north — landscape — than southern forests because of proximity to residential and generally greater population density, Florea added.

The MOU also was encouraged when Gov. Jerry Brown, in October, issued his State of Emergency Proclamation about tree mortality. The proclamation requires Cal Fire and the California Air Resources Board to work with the Forest Service and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to expand using prescribed burning.

“The governor’s State of Emergency Proclamation identifies prescribed fire as an extremely valuable tool to restore our forests while limiting pollution from larger, uncontrolled wildfire events,” added Pimlott.

At the Tuesday, Feb. 2, press conference, representatives of the various environmental groups were all supportive of the effort. For example, Craig Thomas, conservation director for the Sierra Forest Legacy, emphasized, “This is a partnership that is committed to more than actually talk-the-talk, we’re committed to walk-the-walk and committed to getting more fire on the landscape. This will increase forest resilience.”

The environmental groups were unified in the view that more prescribed burns would reduce forest fuels and thus reduce the intensity of natural wildland fires. Not only would the fuels be reduced, but the ability of ladder fuels to climb into the tree line, which more easily spreads the fire, would be mitigated.