Strategic Plan 2023–2028
BRINGING GOOD FIRE TO THE LAND
Sonoma County ecosystems evolved with naturally occurring fire, shaping the ways in which plants grow and disperse their seeds, soils rejuvenate, and supply conditions that host diverse native species critical for the food chain. This area was further shaped and maintained by Indigenous peoples’ land management practices, including the use of localized fire to augment the productivity of forests, grasslands, shrublands, and marsh. Working in harmony with the landscape, they used low-intensity fire to sustain healthy, resilient ecosystems and to produce food, fiber, and medicine. However, European colonization decimated local Indigenous populations, divided, and privatized the landscape, and suppressed indigenous land management practices. We recognize that returning good fire to the land is an essential tool to restoring balance and resilience into our forests.
Thousands of acres of forested areas in Sonoma County have transformed due to modern forestry practices including the suppression of prescribed fire regimens. As a result, the forests have overgrown into densely wooded areas, become degraded from the stress of increased heat and extended periods of drought dramatically decreasing their resilience to wildfire outbreaks. Left in these conditions, they pose a major risk to the surrounding communities and could succumb to a massive wildfire event.
Restoring the health of the forest through land management practices that enhance their strength and promote their wellbeing will provide the best defense against a changing climate that threatens their existence. In collaboration with communities, local government agencies, nonprofits, and Indigenous tribes, we are restoring fire’s ecological role in areas where the geography and ecology are best suited for this vegetation management practice. Reintroducing good fire is one tool we use in concert with other management practices that collectively work together to help mitigate the effects of climate change, promote ecosystem health and biodiversity, and improve the fire resilience and safety of our communities.
Reintroducing the knowledge and tools required to implement prescribed burns provides our community with the skills and opportunities to harden our landscapes and protect ourselves from catastrophic wildfires. Positioning fire-adapted land management practices as a top priority, our investments, expertise, and nature preserves we will continue to participate in projects across Sonoma County that use good fire to create resiliency to climate change and restore the health of our forests.
Why this matters
Sonoma County has 500,000+ acres of forests and if left unmanaged, could become densely packed and susceptible to catching fire that could burn hot and spread over great distances. Fire-adaptive land management practices that incorporate low-intensity fires can provide large-scale fuel reduction and ecosystem restoration across the complex landscapes of the county. Using prescribed fire as a forest management tool has been repeatedly demonstrated to be a relatively low-risk approach to reestablish balanced ecosystems, enhance biodiversity, and over time, enable our communities and landscapes to become more resilient to wildfires and drought.
The growing field of fire-adaptive land management programs are rooted in science and require a comprehensive understanding of the area to be treated. Our team participates in numerous skills-building courses, obtains the necessary accreditations, and performs this work both on and off of our preserves. We engage early and often with Tribal governments and indigenous communities before initiating prescribed fires to ensure the protection of cultural and natural resources on our land. Working with landowners, the community, and public agency partners, we encourage the education and broader implementation of fire-adaptive land management practices to improve community safety in addition to monitoring the changes to the wildlife and ecosystems though the help of scientists and forestry professionals.
What We’ll Do
Accelerate collaborative prescribed fire projects
Increasing the pace and scale of the Sonoma Valley Wildlands Collaborative’s (SVWC) prescribed fire work requires financial resources which we secure through programs and granting organizations for the collaborative. Working in coordination with fire protection agencies, landowners, and community groups, we survey the region and identify areas that meet conditions for prescribed burns to protect biodiversity-rich conservation zones currently at risk. This is in addition to maintaining over 500 acres of previously burned areas, and designing plans to implement additional acres of fuel reduction and fire treatments.
Improve ecosystem health on our preserves with fire
We incorporate science and tribal input and knowledge to create and implement fire-adapted vegetation management strategies on our preserves. This includes creating shaded fuel breaks, reducing ladder fuels through manual trimming and thinning practices, and supporting the growth of larger, more fire-resistant native tree species. We prepare for the return of good fire back to our Mayacamas mountain preserves, successfully burning Laufenburg Ranch, Live Oaks Ranch, and Glen Oaks Ranch — and our Sonoma Coast preserves — Pole Mountain and Little Black Mountain. We track our impacts over time to improve our management tactics and share our learnings with partners.
Promote adoption of fire-adaptive management skills
Using our preserves as demonstration sites, we convene tours and meetings with private, public, and nonprofit landowners to share our strategies, progress, and learnings around fire-adaptive management strategies and their benefits. This work includes partnering with the Coast Community Collaborative and Audubon Canyon Ranch’s Fire Forward program, providing support to conservation easement landowners interested in learning about this practice as well as funding an annual TREX (Prescribed Fire Training Exchange) event, and supporting a new wildfire resiliency effort in Knights Valley.