Hero Image

Fire in California's Oak Woodlands

The Issue

Fires in California have become all too common during the past two decades. What is especially troubling is that large, catastrophic wildfires resulting in significant property losses seem to be increasing in regularity. Oak woodlands will no doubt continue to be affected by these conflagrations. One reason wildfires are increasing in severity is the build-up of fuels, at least partially the result of effective fire suppression efforts during the last century. There are more fuels on the landscape today, especially in the understory, and the fires that start are more likely to become large in scope.

What Has ANR Done?

In response to these fires and affected residents' demand for information, the Integrated Hardwood Range Management Program (IHRMP) developed a white paper titled "Fire in California’s Oak Woodlands." This document -- for landowners, resource managers and policymakers, as well as the interested public -- provides a broad overview and addresses several important subjects including historical fire patterns, prescribed fire, the effects of fire on oaks and ecological processes in oak woodlands. It also recommends things landowners can do to help prevent future fires and what to do following fires to help the land and associated resources recover. This information will help a variety of people understand fire in oak woodlands and assist them in developing strategies to minimize its negative effects. This publication can be ordered from the IHRMP or viewed and downloaded free from the Internet at http://danr.ucop.edu/ihrmp. The IHRMP has also participated in “after the fire” workshops targeted for local residents and is conducting research on fire impacts.

The Payoff

UC Helps Californians Learn to Live With Fire

Fires in California’s oak woodlands will continue to occur, but things can be done to minimize the damage. The IHRMP continues to inform Californians via workshops and newsletters about preventive steps to take. For instance, fuel loads can be reduced; new construction can be located in areas that are easier to protect; homes can be built with more fire-safe materials; and buffer zones can be created around structures by clearing vegetation and other combustible materials. Adopting such recommendations greatly increases the chances of surviving fires with less property damage.

Vegetation in burned-over areas, including oak trees, can be restored. By hosting homeowner trainings, preparing news releases, and publishing “how-to” brochures such as Regenerating Rangeland Oaks in California (ANR Publication 21601), the IHRMP is working to ensure that those living in or managing oak woodlands are aware of these steps. We are also continuing research on fire-related subjects such as alternative approaches for restoring woodlands and how to enhance wildlife habitat following fire. It will help conserve our native oak woodlands and the myriad values they provide.


Supporting Unit: Integrated Hardwood Range Management Program

Douglas D. McCreary, natural resources specialist, (530) 639-8807, mccreary@nature.berkeley.edu