Whitaker Prescribed Fire: A Story in Partnerships

A firefighter stands on a fireline on a steep hill with other firefighters below.
Heading down the steep line.

NPS / Crew 91

The Whitaker prescribed fire, in June 2012, was an interagency project completed in cooperation between the National Park Service and the Center for Forestry, part of UC Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources. This 504-acre unit, 429 acres of which were on park land and 75 acres on UC Center for Forestry land, is in the Redwood Mountain Grove.

Redwood Mountain is home to the largest giant sequoia grove in the world and is also the birthplace of prescribed fire in the western United States. Starting in 1963 and 1964, researchers for both the National Park Service and University of California first studied the need for fire to sustain the giant sequoia. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks began using prescribed fires in 1968. By monitoring change following the Whitaker prescribed fire, scientists and managers will further improve our understanding of the complex relationship between fire and giant sequoias.

A firefighter works on a chainsaw.
Checking on the chainsaw.

NPS / Crew 91

Historically, fire occurred in the mixed conifer forest of this drainage approximately every seven to fifteen years. Most of the park lands were last burned in the 1970s. However, the segment on UC Berkeley land had no recorded fire history. Because of the lack of recent fire and the opportunity for research, this area was an especially high priority for prescribed fire for UC Berkeley. This project reduced the amount of forest fuels that could feed an unwanted fire and created conditions that are better suited for giant sequoia regeneration.

Additionally, fire managers worked closely with the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District to select the best air quality windows to reduce local smoke impacts. Fire managers recognized that this unit had the potential to produce significant smoke impacts on nearby communities. Daily conversations between the parks and the air district were crucial to finding the best weather window for good smoke dispersal. For most of the project, smoke lifted up and dispersed to the east, leaving nearby communities mostly free of smoke.

The working relationships developed in advance of the project among the parks, UC Berkeley, and the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District were the cornerstone of this project’s success.

Contact: Deb Schweizer, fire education specialist
Email: debra_schweizer@nps.gov
Phone: (559) 565-3703