The Nature Conservancy enhances prescribed fire initiatives in partnership with USDA Forest Service

November 3, 2023
Maui Wildfire

Expanding prescribed fire workforce through federal partnerships

The Nature Conservancy has entered into a series of multiyear agreements with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service, with the aim of bolstering the prescribed fire workforce and increasing the usage of fire for ecological benefits.

This initiative aligns with the goals of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy and the Forest Service’s Wildfire Crisis Strategy, focusing on fire-adapted landscapes and cultures, particularly in the U.S. West.

Collaboration to strengthen fire-adapted ecosystems

The new collaborations are not the first between The Nature Conservancy and the Forest Service but build upon a 20-year relationship.

The agreements stipulate an allocation of almost $45 million over the next five years to The Nature Conservancy.

These funds are earmarked to support the employment and training of fire practitioners and to conduct prescribed fire projects.

The efforts will concentrate on National Forest System lands and other areas where The Nature Conservancy and the Forest Service have pre-existing or evolving partnerships.

Leveraging indigenous knowledge and modern science

Jennifer Morris, CEO of The Nature Conservancy, emphasized the importance of integrating Indigenous knowledge and Western science to manage wildfire threats and enhance ecosystem health: “Indigenous knowledge and Western science tell us that by using beneficial fire in the right way, we can reduce the increasing catastrophic effects of wildfires across our North American landscapes while improving the health of natural systems.

“The Nature Conservancy and the USDA Forest Service know we must increase the amount of beneficial fire throughout the United States to achieve these outcomes,” said Morris.

“To do this, we need a well-trained, multi-organizational workforce focused on prescribed fire. These investments support that objective.”

Restoring the historical role of fire in land management

The partnership also seeks to address the disconnect caused by past policies that suppressed fire and extinguished indigenous burning practices.

Marek Smith, director of TNC’s North America Fire program, addressed this historical separation and its contemporary resolution: “For more than a century, policies suppressing wildfire and stamping out Indigenous Peoples’ burning practices largely kept healthy fire from hundreds of millions of acres of North American landscapes that needed it,” Smith said.

“The relationship between people and fire began to fragment.

“Increased use of beneficial fire and development of a larger and more diverse community of fire practitioners will moderate the impacts of extreme wildfire—but, critically, it also will help rebuild the relationship between people and fire and create a better future for us all.”

Work under these new agreements began in October, signaling a proactive step towards integrating prescribed fire practices more widely.

For more information, please refer to the official announcement from The Nature Conservancy.

FSJA Comment

The enhancement of the prescribed fire workforce, through The Nature Conservancy’s strategic partnership with the USDA Forest Service, marks a significant stride in wildfire management and ecological stewardship.

Training and deploying fire practitioners to conduct controlled burns reflects a paradigm shift towards embracing fire as a natural and necessary ecological process.

The integration of Indigenous practices with contemporary science in this effort not only honors traditional land management wisdom but also serves as a bridge in the modern approach to environmental conservation.

By focusing on at-risk landscapes in the Western United States, the initiative promises to fortify the resilience of these areas against the backdrop of escalating wildfire threats.

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