by Miriam Landman
I’m a resident of Sonoma County, and like most North Bay and Northern California residents (and indeed the residents of most western states and many other parts of the world), I have been adversely affected by the ever-worsening wildfires and ever-longer fire seasons we’ve been experiencing these past few years. The regular and explosive fires, evacuations, red flag warnings, power outages, dangerous smoke in the air, apocalyptic skies, and mass disruptions to work and life in general have taken a toll on all of us. And many of us know people who lost their homes and their sense of security—and became climate refugees, facing displacement and years of insurance headaches and nightmares—because of these fires. I have some good friends who went through this trauma due to the 2017 Nuns Fire. I helped sift through the rubble and toxic ashes of their destroyed home and work studio, on a property that was formerly a sort of paradise and sanctuary; it was an intense and emotionally jarring experience, and it left a mark on me.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless in the face of these catastrophic wildfires fueled by dangerous climate conditions. But we are not helpless. There are many actions we can take to prevent or minimize further destruction. To assist our professional community in learning (and educating others) about important wildfire risk reduction efforts and resources, I was asked to help develop the USGBC-REC chapter’s new Fire Ecology resource links . These links, along with the Fire Ecology-related articles that the chapter has posted on its website and in its recent newsletters, can help you identify and implement a number of concrete actions that could protect your own family and residence, your clients and their properties, and your community from wildfires.
When doing this research on fire ecology and wildfire risk reduction resources, I was heartened to discover that there are many experts (e.g., pyrogeologists, fire ecologists, and all types of fire science aficionados and fire safety officials) doing good work, and many smart and positive efforts are underway to lessen the wildfire risks going forward; these include a number of efforts in Northern California and the North Bay. For example, there is a growing understanding among land managers, fire agencies, policymakers, and state and county staff of the need for prescribed fires (AKA controlled burns): a once-traditional, indigenous practice to reduce dry and dead vegetation (fuels) and to safely mimic and manage what would occur naturally if most wildfires hadn’t been suppressed over the last century. I’ve been glad to observe that, at least in Sonoma County, prescribed fires have been happening much more frequently and in many areas before this coming fire season; I’ve been seeing scheduled burns regularly posted on the PulsePoint App’s map, and I’ve also occasionally seen and smelled the smoke from some of these managed fires. I’ve also read about previous prescribed burns (as well as greenbelt buffers) in our County that did, in fact, help protect some neighborhoods from last year’s raging fires.
The Fire Ecology resource links are organized into the following three sections: General, Community-scale, and Property/Building-scale. They feature California and Northern California-specific (state, local, and regional) resources, as well as some national and international resources. The web links include useful organizations, agencies, guidelines and strategies, grants and funding opportunities, reports, and articles.
The Community-scale resources cover state, regional, local/municipal, and neighborhood-level land use/management (of public and privately owned lands), e.g., forest management, prescribed fires/controlled burns, greenbelt buffers / Urban Growth Boundaries (for the wildland-urban interface), zoning that restricts building (or re-building) in fire-prone (or flood-prone or other disaster-prone) areas, and fire-resilient infrastructure.
The Property / Building-scale resources cover site and structure-specific issues, such as residential and commercial landscaping, vegetation management, defensible space; home/building hardening and protection (design, building, remodeling, retrofitting strategies); and smoke protection and remediation, indoor air quality (IAQ) e.g., ventilation and air filtering.
And the links in the General section provide information on a wide range of topics that are relevant to both community-scale policies and practices, as well as property/building-scale (e.g., land owner, building/home owner, and resident) policies and practices.
I have also created a Wildfire and Fire Ecology Twitter list that includes many of the organizations and resources from the REC listing. I have other Twitter lists, as well, including one on Climate .
In addition to doing everything we can to prevent or manage the spread of wildfires and to protect structures, people, and animals from wildfires, we all should also be doing everything we can (through our work, in our households, and as citizens) to help mitigate and slow climate change, as our fast-changing climate is the primary driver of these catastrophic wildfires that have become our “new normal.” To that end, you may be interested in reading some of these climate-specific posts on my blog ( TheGreenSpotlight.com ):
- Sweat the Big Stuff: The Most Effective Climate Strategies (on high-impact climate actions and choices that make the biggest difference)
- Municipalities, States, and Countries that are Achieving, Approaching, or Committed to 100% Renewable Energy ;
- as well as other
Another post from my blog that is related to the topic of wildfires (and other climate-related disasters) is: Get Ready, Be Ready: Tips for Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Response .
Researching, assembling, and curating resource lists is one of my favorite things to do, so I’m very pleased to have been given this opportunity to develop the list of resources and links on Fire Ecology and wildfire risk reduction for the USGBC-REC chapter’s website. I was on the chapter’s Steering Committee many years ago, when I was working as a green building consultant. Now I mostly do writing, editing, and research on a broad range of environmental (and social) issues, including the climate crisis, regenerative land use, and environmental health. I hope that you will find the Fire Ecology resources and the related links above to be helpful and that you will share them and put them to good use.
For more information on Miriam Landman’s work, visit her LinkedIn profile . She can be reached by email at: info [at] mlandman.com.
Additional Fire Articles
“Becerra… argued the project’s environmental impact report…did not sufficiently address the increased risk of wildfire that would result from the development, as well as the limited capacity for evacuation from the community should a fire occur.”