Beyond The Burn

How New Technologies Can Grow the Use of Prescribed Burns, Creating Better Land Outcomes, Peace of Mind, and New Markets

By Lucy Reading, Jake Harris, and Nancy Pfund, November 5, 2023

Orange sky­lines, smoke-tinged air, emer­gency “go bags” packed—these are becom­ing all too famil­iar as extreme wild­fires become reg­u­lar occur­rences amid the cli­mate cri­sis. Today, we are liv­ing through Canada’s worst fire sea­son in mod­ern his­to­ry, which has burned near­ly 60 mil­lion acres and released 335 mega­tonnes of car­bon diox­ide emis­sions to date, with no signs of slow­ing down. As more than 1,000 blazes active­ly burned in Cana­da, the dead­liest US fire in a cen­tu­ry ripped through the island of Maui. As news of the destruc­tion and loss of life in the Lahaina com­mu­ni­ty emerged and hit the world stage, much like Par­adise, Cal­i­for­nia in 2018, it por­tend­ed a har­row­ing and painful har­bin­ger of what a poten­tial future with increas­ing­ly destruc­tive fires looks like, par­tic­u­lar­ly for those locat­ed in the high-risk urban-wild­land inter­face. The need to pre­vent cat­a­stroph­ic wild­fires has nev­er been so urgent, and expand­ing the use of pre­scribed burns, which have been used by Indige­nous Tribes for mil­len­nia to man­age fire-prone land­scapes, will play a cen­tral role. While the eco­log­i­cal and wild­fire mit­i­ga­tion ben­e­fits of pre­scribed burns are wide­ly rec­og­nized, there are sev­er­al chal­lenges pre­vent­ing their wide­spread adop­tion, from the fear of a fire escap­ing and caus­ing a wild­fire to lim­it­ed work­force capac­i­ty and few weath­er win­dows when it is safe to burn. This paper high­lights how new tech­nolo­gies in wild­fire mit­i­ga­tion, veg­e­ta­tion man­age­ment, and forestry can help over­come these bar­ri­ers, and explores how a vari­ety of inno­v­a­tive fund­ing mod­els could be har­nessed to dra­mat­i­cal­ly scale the abil­i­ty to use pre­scribed burns safe­ly and effec­tive­ly in the future.

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