Building Rogue Basin capacity for prescribed fire through collaborative training opportunities
Nonprofits, community organizations, and municipalities are working with state and federal agencies to plan training opportunities for fire professionals on prescribed burns at numerous locations this spring. Partners are working together to support the Rogue Basin Prescribed Fire Training Exchange (RBTREX) in integrating training to increase local capacity for prescribed fire using a model that has been successfully used across the country.
The RBTREX is creating opportunities for diverse fire practitioners from around the region to advance their skills and certifications through hands-on trainings during prescribed burns at ecological restoration project sites. RBTREX participants are on standby as fire managers watch for appropriate spring conditions, when the ground dries enough to carry low-intensity fire, combined with an exacting combination of temperatures, humidity, winds, and fire management personnel and equipment for safe fire containment. When conditions align, RBTREX participants will assist with prescribed fire operations planned by the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest and by the Bureau of Land Management Medford District.
“I fully support putting good fire on the landscape during the cooler times of the year. Programs like RBTREX help ensure we are providing the necessary training and experience to those that are helping protect our communities from catastrophic wildfires during the hottest times of the year,” said Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest Supervisor Merv George, Jr.
As the increasing frequency and severity of wildfires across the West threatens communities and forest health, state and federal governments are making greater investments in ecological restoration and fuels reduction initiatives. Restoration projects have received millions of dollars from federal sources (including through the recent Bipartisan Infrastructure Law), the state (including Senate Bill 762), and private philanthropic organizations. These support ecological thinning and prescribed fire treatments.
“RBTREX is a valuable collaboration to add needed capacity to prescribed fire in Southwest Oregon,” said Elizabeth Burghard, BLM Medford District Manager. “The high need for prescribed fire and the short burn window means an all-hands-on-deck approach is necessary to treat as many acres as possible each season.”
Across the Rogue Basin, collaboratives have been working to increase the resiliency of forest landscapes. In the Upper Applegate, on Forest Service and BLM managed lands, these projects have strategically thinned stands of trees, with the slash created piled and burned. Now managers look to further treat these units with low intensity understory burns. In understory burning, practitioners create a containment line and then carefully apply fire to the ground, allowing it to slowly creep across the forest or meadow floor, devouring duff, leaf litter, and downed woody debris. This helps create ecological diversity and reduce remaining fuel loads while moving the forest closer to being fire resilient and providing opportunities for community protection.
Prescribed understory burning is the most cost-effective way to maintain restoration treatments over time—and brings many ecological benefits to our dry forest ecosystems, which have been shaped and maintained by Indigenous burning and lightning-caused fires for millennia.
“We appreciate RBTREX’s inclusion and support of tribal participants, creating opportunities for trainings that help build capacity for tribal members to reintroduce fire on their ancestral lands,” said Belinda Brown, Tribal Partnerships Director for Lomakatsi Restoration Project and enrolled member of the Kosealekte Band of the Ajumawi-Atsuge Nation. “For Lomakatsi, RBTREX will help young adults in our Tribal Ecological Forestry Training Program to gain hands-on experience with understory burning, including representation of inter-tribal crew members from five tribal nations.”
To participate in prescribed fire operations on federal lands, or as part of many collaborative forest restoration initiatives, crew members must earn and maintain specific certifications recognized by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group. In order to advance certifications—for example from a basic wildland firefighter to a squad boss or crew leader—practitioners must gain experience on live wildfire or prescribed fire incidents.
“We appreciate the partnership and leadership of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest and the BLM Medford District in creating these training opportunities on federal lands,” said Darren Borgias, SW Oregon Forest Conservation Director with The Nature Conservancy. “We’re giving a broad sweep of fire professionals opportunities to build essential skills and experience in cooperative burning.”
RBTREX provides essential opportunities for local practitioners to gain the required experience for advancing certifications, while also providing experience specifically in the application of prescribed fire.
MORE ABOUT RBTREX
The Rogue Basin Prescribed Fire Training Exchange is a collaboration between local agencies, non-profits, and community organizations advancing local capacity to put prescribed fire to work in ecological restoration and providing hands-on training opportunities. RBTREX brings together new and seasoned fire practitioners alike who are looking to gain experience and advance their certifications on live understory prescribed fire operations. We also bring added capacity to existing landscape-scale restoration projects in the Rogue Basin, providing additional personnel resources that allow agency and NGO partners to accomplish more acres of treatment.
Rogue Basin TREX is supported by a grant titled Promoting Ecosystem Resilience and Fire Adapted Communities Together, a cooperative agreement between The Nature Conservancy, USDA Forest Service and agencies of the Department of the Interior.
The mission of RBTREX is to promote effective cooperative prescribed burning to build robust local capacity—helping diverse partners bring together staff, skills, resources, and cultural perspectives to optimize opportunities for prescribed fire education, forest stewardship, and professional training. RBTREX partners envision resilient, fire-adapted communities and landscapes maintained by diverse community members and a network of partners learning from and using prescribed fire together when specific conditions and resources allow.