Audubon Canyon Ranch awarded $2M for prescribed fire workforce development

Audubon Canyon Ranch awarded $2M for prescribed fire workforce development

Audubon Canyon Ranch has been awarded a $2 million grant from CAL FIRE. The largest share of the funding will be directed to its Fire Forward program, a prescribed fire training program that focuses on building capacity for prescribed burning across the San Francisco Bay Area. A prescribed burn, also called a controlled burn, is the intentional application of fire to vegetation for the purpose of land and resource stewardship.

Local solutions to overcome California’s prescribed fire workforce deficit

The four-year grant will launch a workforce development program, the Fire Forward Intensive, which will train five new full-time prescribed burn leaders each year. Participants will complete a range of formal wildland fire training courses and informal workshops, and gain leadership skills as prescribed fire practitioners with field experiences in planning, preparing, implementing, and monitoring prescribed fire and fuels reduction projects.

Graduates from the program will be qualified for hire to existing crews, including in leadership positions, as well as qualified to launch new fuels and fire management worker-owned cooperatives or contract crews. These graduates will also have the skills to plan and coordinate fuels reduction and ecosystem stewardship projects from start to finish following all standard regulations and procedures.

Fire Forward Intensive crewmembers will be ready to earn the California Prescribed-Fire Burn Boss (CARX) certification by the end of their one-year term in the program. The burn boss certification was mandated in legislation in 2018 (SB1260, Jackson) to promote prescribed fire as a tool for wildfire prevention and protection, but is only now beginning to offer certifications. Fire Forward hosted one of the first of these courses earlier this year at their Petaluma classroom.

The funding will enable an increase in prescribed burning in the North Bay

Workforce development is the focus of this grant; however, the funding will serve double duty, allowing for an increasing number of prescribed fire projects to get underway in the North Bay, aligning with California’s 2021 Wildfire and Forest Resilience Action Plan and California’s 2022 Strategic Plan for Expanding the use of Beneficial Fire.

“We have seen a rapid increase in interest for using prescribed burning to steward our cherished Northern California ecosystems. However, until now there has not been a sufficiently trained and certified workforce to plan and lead these projects, and complete them at the pace and scale being demanded,” explained Fire Forward program director Sasha Berleman in her application to the Business and Workforce Development Grant offered by CAL FIRE’s Wood Products and Bioenergy Program.

Since 2017, Fire Forward has trained more than 600 people and treated nearly 2,000 acres with regionally tailored fuels reduction practices that restore ecosystem health. Another three dozen projects are already in the pipeline through the end of 2022.

“We are thrilled to be able to offer, through this grant, additional pathways to professional fire and forest stewardship careers in communities threatened by the impacts of climate change and century-long lack of stewardship,” Berleman added.

Environmental review also funded through CAL FIRE grant

A portion of the funds will be used to complete a California Vegetation Treatment Program Programmatic Environmental Impact Report (CalVTP PEIR) review of five nature preserves totalling 5,000 acres held by Audubon Canyon Ranch in Marin and Sonoma counties. “By completing the requirements of review under CEQA, we will be able to access funds and utilize publicly funded resources to better steward our lands for biodiversity, ecological function, and wildfire prevention that will have benefits well-beyond the borders of the preserves” said Tom Gardali, CEO of Audubon Canyon Ranch.