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Table of Contents


The Early Years,

Defining The System,

The New Deal Years,

The Poverty Years,

Questions of
Resource Management

The Ecological Revolution,

Transformation and

A System Threatened,

Summaries of
Lengthy Documents

About the Editor

America's National Park System:
The Critical Documents
Chapter 6:
The Ecological Revolution: 1964 - 1969
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Middle Fork Kings River February 29, 1968


The long range objective of this plan is park-wide in scope and would restore and maintain as nearly as possible the natural environment of the Park in a condition that prevailed when Europeans first visited the vicinity. In furtherance thereof and as a primary management tool, it is proposed to return fire to its environmental role as an important factor in the restoration and maintenance of the natural environment.

Initially, management efforts will be confined to the Middle Fork Kings, and directed toward the mixed conifer and associated communities. Interest in the mixed conifer ecosystem is based on the two following considerations: It is our most extensive and valuable forest community since it contains all sequoia groves. Secondly, the pristine quality, with or without its sequoia component, is a seral type depending upon periodic fire for its continuance.

The Middle Fork Kings has been selected for initial work for reasons listed below:

  1. It follows the recommendation of the Secretary's Advisory Board on Wildlife Management, being situated away from roads and areas of high visitation.
  2. The fireproof and natural perimeters of the area provide an ideal place to experiment without resorting to elaborate fire lines and breaks. Here natural breaks would be used almost exclusively.
  3. Low and middle elevations have long been in need of fire management to restore biotic communities.

Although this is primarily a management plan, there are elements of research in it because of the need to evaluate results.

Prescribed fire will be the primary tool used to achieve the desired ecological conditions. However, use of the term "prescribed fire" here is not intended to imply the strict control of physical and biotic factors implied in its most absolute interpretation. Nor does it imply that we can predict its effect in exact terms. Rather, it implies where, when, and under what range of conditions fire will be ignited and allowed to burn. Further, while prescribed fire implies objectives to be accomplished, these will be described in fairly broad terms.


To initiate this project, several sites in the Middle Fork Kings, ranging from the canyon bottom to the lower ends of hanging valleys, have been tentatively selected for restoration work. All of these are within what is termed the mixed conifer type. In order to assess properly the results of treatment, control areas for each tentative treatment area have been designated.

For prescribed burning to be economically feasible as a management tool in extensive acreages of wildlands, techniques must be used that minimize the need for line preparation and other control work. As a consequence, the best possible combination of natural barriers have been chosen and full use made of fire weather forecasts. Before ignition, a test fire will be ignited in a representative site where immediate control is assured. Only after a satisfactory response will the prescribed burn be ignited.

In almost all cases, it is proposed to employ backing fires burning downslope using area ignition only for certain unique situations. Fuel breaks by burning out from a scratch line will be used where desirable to keep fire out of certain areas or fuel types. Burning may be conducted during fire season but confined to periods of moderate fire load index.


Two categories of research seem to be indicated. One is allied to the primary objective and consists of determining the effects of fire on the various elements of the environment. The second category deals with research on prescribed burning techniques.

Effect on Resources: To provide comparative data, investigation of the first category should be carried out in the control, as well as the treatment area. We feel that the following data should be collected:

  1. Vegetation
    1. 1. Preparation of a detailed type map prior to burning.
    2. 2. Estimate and, on transects, measure herbaceous cover and litter for each type before and after treatment.
    3. 3. Install representative transects in each major cover type before burning and measure plant species composition, age class, and, in the case of brush, condition class.
    4. 4. Set up photo points and take before and after photographs.
  2. Animal Life
    1. 1. Various counts and indices to measure the population response to prescribed burning should be conducted.
      Vertebrate and invertebrate populations in both terrestrial and aquatic environments would be observed.
  3. SOILS
    1. Prior to burning, collect soil samples on transects and elsewhere for analysis to determine type, structure, primary chemical constituents, and reaction. Comparative measurements following treatment would be taken.
    2. 2. Determine soil moisture percentages before and after burning.
  4. Water
    1. Pre-treatment water samples would be taken from various sites in the treatment and control areas and in the Middle Fork Kings River proper. Post-treatment sampling immediately after burning and at various periods afterwards would also be necessary.
    2. Measurements of spring flows before and after treatment should be made.

II. Investigation of Prescribed Burning Techniques The techniques of fire behavior research have been well developed. The required instruments will be obtained through the United States Forest Service Western Fire Laboratory at Riverside.


The determination of costs is very difficult at this time. Our guiding premise, however, is to accomplish the fire management portion of this project with as little manpower, manipulation, or preparation as possible. The use of natural barriers and environmental factors will be used to the utmost to minimize the costs. Research costs will be kept within reason but adequate funds must be provided if meaningful data is to be collected.

Fire management costs can be absorbed for personal services covering planning and supervision, but funds are needed for a small crew necessary for any line building and actual burning. It is planned that some of the research can be accomplished by the Park Research Biologist and other staff members. Listed below are the estimated costs and funds needed to implement the program.

Approximate cost by fiscal year:

1968 Fiscal Year
Transportation and Per Diem (Personnel) $ 1,000
Miscellaneous. . . . .
Total. . . . . $ 1,500

1969 Fiscal Year
Transportation and Per Diem. . . . . 2,000
Instruments. . . . . 1,000
Personal Services. . . . . 2,300
Miscellaneous. . . . . 1,000
Total. . . . . $ 6,300


A modest start for prescribed burning is proposed. Preliminary field examinations have been accomplished and tentative sites chosen. Final selection should depend upon on-the-site inspection by those involved in the plan. A Research Biologist who can head up the investigative phase of the plan has been appointed.


As a result of Service policy expressed in the "Compilation of Administrative Policies for Natural Areas", dated September 13, 1967, Sequoia and Kings Canyon is initiating the following change in its fire control plan:

In the Middle Forks Kings River drainage, most lightning caused fires at or above 8,000 feet elevation will be allowed to run their course. Control measures will be taken only if unacceptable loss of wilderness values, loss of life, or spread to lands outside the Park seem imminent. Fires occurring below 8,000 feet will be suppressed.

It is therefore proposed to return fire to its ecological role in the area for the purposes of environmental restoration with the thought that the resulting bums will provide data complementary to that derived from the prescribed burning program.

J.S. McLaughlin, Superintendent
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
February 29, 1968

Historic Files, Office of Natural Resources Management, Sequoia National Park.

NEXT>National Environmental Policy Act, 1969


Last Modified: October 25, 2000 10:00:00 am PST

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