Editor’s note: Logan Krahenbuhl coordinates the Plumas Underburn Cooperative for the Plumas County Fire Safety Council and is a burn crew member with The Nature Conservancy’s Northern America Fire program. He has BA in Geography from California State University, Chico and has worked in fire suppression, fuels, and conservation for the past few years. He lives in Quincy, CA and enjoys fire, sewing, and spending time in the backcountry. In this blog, Logan shares reflections on what community means, and the power communities have to come together in the face of big challenges.
I’ve been thinking about communities a lot lately. The people, places, and ideas we surround ourselves with influence the ways we see the world and how we interact with the environment around us.
I’ve had the pleasure of being a part of many communities over the last few years. I’ve moved around a bit, lived in different places in the West, and had some cool employment opportunities. When I think of the term community, four separate ones I’ve been a part of immediately come to mind: a summer camp, a high school sports team, an outdoor leadership program, and an ecological reserve. So often I hear of communities defined as a geographical area, and although, yes, physical communities are delineated places, what makes a community special and relevant for me is the people involved and the culture created within it. Consistent throughout the communities I’ve been a part of has been the passion for a specific subject, a sense of humor, ability to work hard, and ability to collaborate with others.
In the West we have a “fire problem.” But the problem isn’t the presence of fire, an inherent part of our ecology, it’s the way it has behaved and interacted with our built environment. We have altered meadow and prairie landscapes into cities and left millions of acres of forested lands untouched (or over-manipulated with the heavy hand of unsustainable logging practices). What do we do now that our wildland-urban interface has created the inability to do consistent treatments across different parcel ownerships? Homes, power lines, and roads bisect landscapes affecting the movement of floral and faunal species. Roads and power line clearcuts make great firebreaks, sure; but homes, power lines themselves, and the infrastructure of our built environment create hazards for emergency responders and prescribed fire practitioners, and oftentimes become fuel for the fire themselves.
In my short time working in fire and fuels management I’ve been able to see and converse with people adversely affected by fire and those actively taking that once-negatively associated subject and turning it into a tool for good. This tool was used for thousands of years on this California landscape I am so deeply connected to, shaping it through Indigenous stewardship and lightning ignitions. I think it is so important for people residing within fire adapted communities to understand how fire does its job on the landscape, how prescribed fire operations work, and why we want to utilize prescribed fire on our landscapes. More importantly, folks need to understand that people and the communities they belong to are ingrained in their landscape. Choices we make today will have large consequences down the line.
Through Cal-TREX (Prescribed Fire Training Exchange) programs I’ve been a part of these past few years, we’ve been able to empower 60-100 people each year to burn. This may mean teaching beginners the basics of operating a pump, training more experienced firelighters in how to lead a group of five, or demonstrating to our most experienced practitioners how to write a burn plan. People from all levels, including instructors and event coordinators, are learning something. The nuances of fire in our most beloved places is something that one can’t learn in one weekend, but sparking the interest in a college student or retired general contractor to go out and participate in community burning and gain mental slides for why and how things burn is transforming how people in the Sierra Nevada view fire. When I am around passionate people who are knowledgeable about wildlife biology, cultural burning, and sustainable forest management I learn new things about our communities. When I learn new things, I know more and care more deeply about this Sierra Nevada landscape.
Although, in my opinion, 20th century wildland fire suppression, city planning efforts, and the lack of building restrictions have led us down this path of wildfires interacting so fiercely with communities, those existing within fire adapted ecosystems need to understand past mistakes made by land managers and planners so that we can make educated decisions about how we view the intersection of people and fire. What are some solutions to our “fire problem?” I don’t think there is one answer, but action seems like a broad, applicable term. For me, action includes outreach, training, and stewardship. These three pillars describe how many PBAs and TREX organizations are operating within California. These actions are creating social communities of thoughtful individuals ready to tackle issues within fire adapted environments.
From tribal members to college students to agency personnel, folks are exchanging knowledge about the shortcomings in their communities related to prescribed fire, forest management, and wildfire. TREX and PBA participants are getting the tools they need to fill gaps in these communities and becoming thoughtful, intelligent land stewards.