This topic requires much consideration, and is perhaps of grave importance for all Californians. We don’t take it lightly, and our self-education on it is a slow process.
Indigenous land management methods created stable, diverse and very abundant life communities. Therefore, we extrapolate that these practices were appropriate—meaning sustainable–for the land they inherited (or were born into). Fire was a primary tool of most, if not all, indigenous Californians. Because of the destruction of those intact sets of biological communities after the arrival of Euro-Americans, the land is very much changed. It is missing–or experiencing greatly depleted numbers–of key species. In oak woodland, oak savanna and grasslands, these species include native bunchgrasses, native grazing herds and their predators, beavers, and massive flocks of migrating birds.
We see that the restoration of soil fertility, which is the foundation of healthy, productive lands (which are the foundation of genuine security for humans), requires management techniques commensurate with the severity of the current conditions. This means that the primary use of fire may not be appropriate in annual-dominated grasslands and some oak woodlands, as these biological communities have undergone more drastic changes than those of the foothills and mountains, which may respond better to fires. We suspect each and every location where fire is considered will have to be assessed by its level of biological integrity, slope, exposure, terrain, soils, etc.
For starters, however, a general understanding of the The Myth of Catastrophic Fire may burn off some of the illusions this culture teaches most of us through Smokey the Bear and other anti-fire campaigns.
We also recommend the Environmental Protection and Information Center’s summary page on fire and the videos there. One important issue not detailed on that page is that, from a nutrient cycling perspective, there is a huge difference between extracting large amounts of post-fire wood and leaving that wood so that it can go back to the soil. All large-scale extraction, be it on agricultural fields or burned forests, undermines the foundation of terrestrial life, which is the health of the soil and its water-holding capacity.
A significant problem we see with fire is that humans who choose to live in fire-risk areas feel entitled to manage their lands to avoid “catastrophic fire” in ways that are incompatible with the evolution of life in that locale. Another huge problem is that most of the ways that agencies fight fires are types of disturbance that are nothing like the natural disturbances with which these life communities evolved.