ACR is extremely delighted to welcome ten prescribed fire community members to the first class of Fire Forward Fellows. Over the past couple of years as volunteer fire-lighters, these Fellows have engaged in prescribed burns, land stewardship, community building and some have even taken on wildfire assignments. Now they look to build leadership skills under the guidance of our Fire Forward team and in partnership with their employer organizations.
Each Fellow has arrived with basic wildland firefighter training and some on-the-ground experience. During the one-year fellowship, these ten will each engage in more than 300 hours of professional development focused on planning and implementing ecologically-driven prescribed fire and supporting their qualifications as Squad Boss and California State Certified Burn Boss positions.
We look forward to working together with these dedicated Fellows and their partnering organizations to supercharge the North Bay’s capacity to safely implement prescribed burning in support of our cherished ecosystems.
Our Fellows, 2021–22:
Devyn Friedfel — Assistant Preserve Manager | Pepperwood Preserve, Santa Rosa I am member of the Rx fire community because I believe that fire is the most effective and efficient way to steward our land and protect our communities from destructive wildfires. As a student of ecology and land restoration I learned a lot about how fire is a natural part of our landscape and a critical component of the disturbance and nutrient cycles. I was also told that liability and logistics of implementing prescribed fire were too difficult to make fire a viable stewardship tool. After experiencing the 2017 Tubbs fire, both on the land I work with and seeing the destruction it had on my community, it became undeniable that this land was going to burn whether we want it to or not. In the spring of 2018 I participated in my first prescribed burn and I have never looked back. Prescribed fire has countless benefits for our land, water, wildlife and our communities. Rx fire can do everything from reduce fuels to minimize the impact of our next wildfire, remove large portions of invasive species, provide food for wildlife, and countless other benefits. I often remind myself that fire has been used as a steward tool in California by Native communities for countless generations, and it humbles me to think that I get to be part of the long ongoing effort to use good fire in California. I burn because our land and communities need us, too.Learn more about Pepperwood Preserve at https://www.pepperwoodpreserve.org/ Photo: Sashwa Burrous
Michael Garrett I am a student of fire, a student of ecology and a student of humanity. I find the relationship between the land, fire, and humankind to be complex, humbling and fascinating. By immersing myself in this relationship I have found vibrant community, endless learning opportunities and great fun. My involvement in the fire-land-community relationship gives me hope for a more balanced relationship between nature and humankind and working towards that goal is often a damn good time.Photo: Sashwa Burrous
Taj Hittenberger — Sonoma-Marin Partner Biologist | Point Blue Conservation Science, PetalumaI’m drawn to prescribed fire—first and foremost—as a means of restoring an essential ecological process and cultural practice on a landscape that has been deprived of it for over a century. In Sonoma County, like much of California, we now live with the compounding effects of large-scale fire suppression and restrictions on intentional burning—a traditional stewardship practice of indigenous people here since time immemorial. As wildfires have burned much of the region over the last five years, the sense of loss has been consistently eased by one of two observations—the vigorous regeneration and increased diversity of plants after burning; and people working together to relearn how to live with fire and use it as a tool to benefit the health and safety of our land and the communities that call it home. Community-based burning is the clearest way I’ve found to respond to the collective fear and uncertainty that wildfires bring. It is a practice that asks me to face fire’s simultaneous ability to take and create life, and demands my full physical, emotional, and cognitive capacities. In burning, I am fully alive and present to my role and responsibility here in this place.Learn more about Point Blue Conservation at https://www.pointblue.org/ Photo: Sasha Berleman
Kogen Keith — Priest | San Francisco Zen Center – Green Gulch Farm, SausalitoI am a Zen priest and our temple, Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, is regularly threatened by fire. We have been living with fire since 1977 when the Marble Cone fire made history in the Los Padres National Forest. Since then, each year we work to become a little more prepared. My interest in prescribe fire comes from wanting to help bring a paradigm shift in fire where communities work together to meet fire instead of fight fire. Moving from reactionary suppression tactics on our temple grounds to a preemptive burn plan is a part of my vision for how our temple will meet fire in the future.Learn more about the San Francisco Zen Center’s Green Gulch Farm at https://www.sfzc.org/practice-centers/green-gulch-farm
Ryan Klausch — Forester | Conservation Fund, North Coast Office, UkiahBorn in Wisconsin, raised with Aldo Leopold’s land ethic, and educated in ecology, I have left my mark at the Mississippi headwaters, remnant tallgrass prairies of Wisconsin, Eastern Lake Ontario dunes and wetlands, longleaf pine forests of the Florida panhandle, Pittsburgh’s urban forests, and vast scrublands of the Mojave Desert. Now on California’s North Coast with The Conservation Fund, I am witnessing a cultural rebirth of fire as a tool for our communities. There is no longer a question of whether fire should be returned to the land. The question is, under what conditions do you want it to burn? This necessity, and its ecological implications, is what drives me to learn more from fire and the community it brings together.Learn more about The Conservation Fund at https://www.conservationfund.org/
Annie Madden — Restoration Field Supervisor | Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation, Santa RosaI’m super stoked to be learning about fire ecology and prescribed burning with members of the Good Fire Alliance community. My interest in prescribed fire sparked during my college days and became a hardcore passion as I transitioned into work as a wetland restoration fieldworker. As both wildfires and prescribed burning gain momentum in our community, I’ve continued to wonder how these events impact our water systems and the wildlife that depends on them. My belief is that good fire and community involvement are essential pieces to promoting functional ecosystems. I learned quickly that these components of stewardship cannot be fully understood through a textbook. They must be experienced.The Good Fire Alliance offers just that — the experience to foster a relationship with each other and the environment. We are invited to share skillsets and gain confidence in leadership, while doing watershed-scale restoration. The learning never ends, which is something I will forever be grateful for. I look forward to seeing the community multiply to build a more resilient landscape.
Learn more about Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation at http://lagunafoundation.orgPhoto: Sashwa Burrous
Jacob McDanielPrescribed fire excites me because of its ability to affect positive ecological benefits and create fire resilient landscapes, all while building community. The camaraderie between members of the Good Fire Alliance and across the larger network of prescribed fire practitioners makes me look forward to every opportunity to come together to learn and burn. From the first time I picked up a drip torch I’ve loved working with fire, it’s hands down one of the most fun things I do. Using this powerful tool to help steward fire adapted ecosystems gives me a sense of gratitude to be involved with this work. Together, these feelings of gratitude, fun, community, and wanting to do right by the ecosystems I inhabit, motivates me to keep learning and work to implement good fire across the landscape.Photo: Sasha Berleman
Peter NelsonI am a Coast Miwok person and a citizen of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria from Marin and Southern Sonoma Counties of California, as well as a professor of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management at UC Berkeley. My people have not been allowed to burn for nearly 200 years, but Fire Forward has given me an outlet to reignite this type of stewardship in my ancestral territory in permitted spaces, even if it is done in the framework of modern prescribed burning that may differ in goals and outcomes from the cultural burning practices of my ancestors. Fire Forward has also provided many outlets for me to reconnect with private and public properties in my ancestral lands that I did not have access to before, and it has strengthened my relationships with other stewardship-minded individuals from our local area. We need bridges, not walls, between our respective communities, because climate change and its impacts on the world do not discriminate between races, species, or genders. We also need to keep in mind how our own societal inequalities intensify these environmental impacts for people of color and other marginalized communities. I am very excited to see how our relationship building in the Good Fire Alliance community and beyond continues to grow and bring us closer together and closer to the land. I think these relationships are crucial to the survival of our planet. Photo: Sashwa Burrous
Asa Voight — Restoration Field Supervisor | Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation, Santa RosaI am a restoration ecologist and a land manager. My interest in fire started from wanting to understand the driving force that has shaped our landscapes and plant communities. After beginning to work with good fire, I quickly realized that most of the management practices I had been implementing were just poor imitations of good fire effects. I am amazed by the power of fire, and I know that harnessing good fire remains the most calorically efficient way to manage our vast landscapes and diverse native habitats.Learn more about Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation at http://lagunafoundation.org
Amy WinzerI burn because once you’ve had the feeling of holding a drip torch in your hands—of working with fire—it’s pretty hard to forget it. But more than that, I feel a responsibility to the land and its people, the First Peoples who stewarded—and still steward—this place with fire. Bringing good fire back to the land in community is not only fun, but deeply rewarding. It comes with a trust in our efforts to be stronger and more sustained because we’re choosing to do so together. And on a purely practical level: I’m a millennial for whom owning land of my own to care for is essentially a pipe dream, so burning in community affords me a way to access a ton of land to steward.Photo: Sashwa Burrous
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