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Jun

The Yolo PBA Prepares for its First Demonstration Rangeland Burn on June 17

The Yolo Prescribed Burn Association (PBA) is a newly formed collaborative led by Yolo County Resource Conservation District with the goal to increase prescribed fire training and capacity for landowners, land managers, and the public. After months of preparation and monthly community meetings, the Yolo PBA will host its first demonstration prescribed burn on a private ranch north of Capay, CA tentatively scheduled on June 17, 2023. The burn will build capacity and training about prescribed fire while showcasing how “good fire” can be an effective land stewardship tool when applied under the right conditions.

Prescribed Burn Associations are grassroots, community-driven networks that use a “neighbor helping neighbor” approach to land stewardship. PBAs consist of landowners, land managers, local tribes, and community members to collaborate and share equipment, training, and labor to safely and effectively apply prescribed fire to a landscape.

Bailey Adams (right, in-grey), Yolo PBA Coordinator, and Tracy Katelman (right, in blue), Registered Professional Forester, present at the Yolo PBA Kickoff Meeting in February 2023.

What is prescribed fire?

Prescribed fire is a cost-effective and useful land stewardship tool that applies low to moderate intensity fire for management objectives. Prescribed fire is being reintroduced throughout California and across the U.S. after decades of fire suppression and changing climate that, in recent years, has resulted in extreme wildland fire behavior.

Unlike high intensity wildfires, prescribed burning is the controlled application of fire under pre-planned management objectives and precise environmental conditions (temperature, wind, humidity, etc.). Prescribed fire can be used to reduce fuels on the land, mitigate extreme fire behavior, maintain and regenerate desired vegetation, improve forage quality and quantity in rangeland, and promote a healthy ecosystem.

Grace, RCD Project Manager, using a drip torch during a grassland prescribed fire at the Cache Creek Nature Preserve.

What are the risks with prescribed fire?

There are risks with all land management tools. Prescribed fire risks are heavily mitigated with proper preparation, planning, and strategic implementation. Annually in California, there are hundreds of prescribed burns that occur without incident. The best mitigation to risk for prescribed fire is preparation and planning. The Yolo PBA has been working with a California Certified Burn Boss to plan the first Demonstration Rangeland Prescribed Burn scheduled for mid-June. Burn Bosses are individuals that are trained, experienced, and may be federally or state-certified to plan, organize, and execute prescribed burns. Burn bosses write or certify burn plans that serve as a written prescription for prescribed fire including weather conditions under which the burn will be conducted, equipment and personnel needed to safely conduct a burn, ignition and holding plans, and contingency plans in the event conditions change or a fire escapes containment. The burn plan also contains management objectives, fuel considerations, and special considerations for the surrounding areas. Additionally, permits must be secured and approved from CAL FIRE and the Yolo-Solano Air Quality Management District to be able to burn.

A view of the hillsides that border the eastern side of the Capay Valley nearby the 31-acre PBA rangeland burn site.

When and where is the Yolo PBA Prescribed Rangeland Burn?

The Yolo PBA Demonstration Rangeland Prescribed Burn is tentatively scheduled for June 17, 2023. Because prescribed burning relies on a “burn window”, prescribed burns cannot be definitively scheduled until the days leading up to the burn where meteorological conditions can be assessed. A burn window is when the environmental and weather conditions are balanced so that fire will accomplish its objectives while remaining under control and safe. Conditions that are continually assessed before and throughout the burn are wind speeds, humidity, and temperature.

The 27-acre burn will take place on a private ranch north of Capay, CA and is being conducted for invasive weed control in an area of rangeland with barbed goatgrass (Aegilops triuncialis) and yellow starthistle (Centaurea solstitialis). Other common goals when burning on rangelands are increasing forage and increasing crude protein in vegetation. Barbed goat grass is an invasive, annual grass that can drastically reduce livestock range capacity. Barbed goatgrass goes to seed late in the season and so an early summer burn is needed before seed maturation and dispersal (i.e., when seedheads are still attached to the stems).

Yellow starthistle is a highly competitive invasive that forms dense stands of sharp and spiny plants. The sharp spines and hairs make it unpalatable to cattle and wildlife. For yellow starthistle control, burning is most effective when flowers first appear. Yellow starthistle will still be green, but surrounding dried, annual grasses will serve as a fuel source. For both barded goatgrass and yellow starthistle, two years of burning is needed to effectively control the plants and diminish the seed bank, a factor included in the burn plan.

Who can join the Demonstration Rangeland Burn?

The Yolo PBA is open to folks of all professional backgrounds and fire practitioner levels. Folks without live fire experience are welcome to attend and observe the burn and learn for future burning opportunities. Participants must wear appropriate clothes for prescribed fire such as jeans, long sleeve t-shirts, and flannels made of natural fibers and leather boots.

Registration for the burn has closed. For more information on the Yolo PBA, visit the RCD’s Yolo PBA webpage (linked here) or reach out to Bailey Adams, Yolo PBA Coordinator at adams@yolorcd.org. For more information on prescribed burning throughout California, visit www.calpba.org.