“As forest fire seasons get longer, these people disappear longer,” said Dan Porter, director of the California forest program at The Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit environmental organization. “When they return, we can say, ‘Hey, would you like to go and light a fire?’ Well, they have been outside the cut line for four months and have been breathing in smoke for four months. They should go and see their families and rest. “
Ms. Quinn-Davidson of the University of California, Cooperative Expansion, hosted courses as part of a new program to train more people to lead fires in their communities. But with many of California’s catastrophic wildfires occurring in federal lands, only larger policy changes and large-scale designated fire projects could do more damage to the wider landscape, he said.
Last summer, Randy Moore, head of the Forest Service, restricted the use of designated fires on agency lands to make sure resources were available to fight forest fires. He also ordered a halt to local fires if they provide environmental benefits and do not pose a threat to homes or infrastructure.
The shutdown was temporary, but some environmentalists feared that officials could still reverse the fire. If the goal is to return the land to its old ecological condition, then the frequent natural fires keep the forests alive and sustainable, then the scale of the work is astonishing.
California aims to use 300,000 acres of designated fire each year by 2025. Scientists estimate that in the past centuries, more and more parts of the state burned down each year before intensive modern settlements changed the landscape. For most of the summer and fall, smoke and fog polluted the sky.
It may not be practical or desirable to return to that world completely. Heath D. Starns, a fire researcher at Texas A&M University and president of the Texas Prescribed Burn Alliance, said.