Prescribed Fire


During And After a Prescribed Fire

Upper Counts Prairie: November 2019 Upper Counts Prairie: November 2019

Left image
During the prescribed fire.
Credit: NPS: G Litten

Right image
Six months after the prescribed fire.
Credit: NPS: J McClelland

See the results of a prescribed fire in the Bald Hills. This prescribed fire at "Upper Counts Prairie" was conducted in November 2019. Six months after the fire, grasslands have flourished which helps wildlife like deer.

WATCH videos and learn more about how, where and why we conduct prescribed fires at Redwood National and State Parks.
View inside a fire scarred redwood tree.
A view up a fire scarred old-growth redwood tree. This is known as a "Chimney Tree".

NPS / Photo: S Kraus

Living with Fire - Since Time Immemorial

During your travels through Redwood National and State Parks, you will notice most ancient redwood trees have been charred by fire. Some redwoods have even been hollowed out by fire, but these "Chimney Trees" are very much alive. This tells us that fire has been a part of old-growth redwood forests for thousands of years - and that the redwoods are very resistant to low intensity fires.

Depending on where you are in an old-growth redwood forest - a fire would have been part of that habitat every couple of decades, or every couple of centuries.

Some of those burns on redwood happened because of lightning strikes. Some fire scars also could be from "cultural burning", or Native American-ignited fires of past centuries. It is now recognized that humans have used fire in redwood forests for thousands of years. The Indigenous method of managing plant communities with fire contributed to ecosystem health by clearing brush, opening up space and light, recycling nutrients, and encouraging new growth. Wildlife too benefited from the results of small fires in the forest floor or by keeping prairies open.

This traditional use of fire around the redwoods ended abruptly in the mid-1800s when Euro-Americans settlers arrived in great numbers in this part of California. This new management practice of removing fire caused a century of fire suppression in habitats that evolved with fire. The outcome is altered landscapes and ecosystems across the area: and an increased risk of catastrophic fires.

Fire ecology today is a science that uses data and records to understand the impacts, role and history of fire in any area. Beginning in the mid-1950s, resource managers in Everglades and Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks began the practice of using prescribed fire to maintain landscape and habitat health.

Redwood National Park first used prescribed fire in the early 1980s and it is the long-term management goal for Redwood National and State Parks to selectively use fire to restore diverse park lands like prairies, grasslands and some forests back to healthy conditions. Additionally, we have almost 70,000 acres of young, second-growth forests that are crowded with trees like Douglas-fir. Without treatment, these once-logged forests will remain unhealthy habitats for wildlife, and there's no space or light for young redwoods to grow tall and thick. In these situations, prescribed fire is a tool we will use in our on-going ecosystem restoration programs.

You can read more about the 2019 prescribed fire season at Redwood National and State Parks.

A redwood tree with green canopy is surrounded by dead and burned douglas fir trees.
A year after a prescribed fire in second-growth forests, the redwood in the middle is flourishing with new growth in the canopy. Douglas-firs trees either side have died back.


Our Prescribed Fire Management Goals

By using prescribed fire on a regular basis, park managers have set the following goals for prairies and redwood forests. (You can download photos or watch videos of our prescribed fire operations in action).

Objectives for prairies and oak woodlands:
  • Control and eliminate exotic plant species
  • Restrict the spread of an exotic oat grass
  • Kill 80-90 percent of invading Douglas-fir less than six feet tall in prairies
  • Kill 60 percent of Douglas-fir less than six feet tall in oak woodlands
  • Restore native plant species diversity
  • Improve native plant to exotic species plant ratio
Objectives for Old Growth:
  • Provide periodic disturbance to maintain an uneven-aged understory
  • Reduce duff material and small dead and down material
  • Limit old growth mortality to one percent or less
  • Generate hardwood reproduction in the understory
  • Reduce fire intolerant species
  • Limit consumption of large dead and down material
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    Last updated: January 24, 2022

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