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Fire Ecology 2

Nature Conservancy fire worker Char’rese Finney uses a drip torch to start a controlled burn to manage a longleaf pine forest in central Florida.

Credit: Carlton Ward Jr. / Nature Conservancy

Fire Ecology

Call to action:

Restore the essential role of fire in nature by adopting practices and attitudes that honor its historic part in regenerating land and cultures.

Fire ecology is both a scientific discipline and a cultural attitude focused on the interactions between fire and ecosystems. In the 20th century, fire suppression became the official policy of land management agencies in many developed nations despite scientific evidence and a long tradition of Indigenous fire management that contradicted it. As a result, wildfire gained a negative reputation. Today, fire ecology demonstrates that properly stewarded fire can prevent larger, more dangerous wildfires and acknowledges that Indigenous peoples have practiced sound fire stewardship for millennia, embracing fire’s regenerative properties. This shift in practices and attitudes toward regenerative fire are urgently needed. Widespread land degradation combined with climate change are creating ideal conditions for uncontrollable fire. In many parts of the world, fire seasons are longer, the number of fires has increased, the amount of land burned is more extensive, and the cost of firefighting has risen dramatically. In this crisis, fire ecologists and Indigenous leaders are working together to bring “good fire” back to the land.

Nexus Rating SystemBeta

Solutions to the climate emergency have unique social and environmental effects, positive and negative. To develop a broader understanding of the solutions in Nexus, we rate each solution on five criteria.

Sources for each Nexus are graded numerically (-3 through 10), and the average is displayed as a letter grade. You can explore each source in depth by clicking “view sources” below. For more information, see our Nexus Ratings page.

Fire Ecology

Reference Social Justice Culture Women Biodiversity Carbon
Fire is medicine: the tribes burning California forests to save them 9.0 9.0 9.0
Native American fire management at an ancient wildlandurban interface in the Southwest United States 7.0 8.0 7.0
In California women learn how to protect their ancestral lands with fire 8.0 9.0 9.0
Fire as a key driver of Earths biodiversity 9.0
Fire Ecology in Sweden and Future Use of Fire for Maintaining Biodiversity 7.0
Situating Indigenous knowledge for resilience in fire-dependent socialecological systems 7.0 7.0 8.0
Oak restoration project a step toward returning indigenous fire 8.0 8.0 8.0
Fire and agroforestry revive California indigenous groups traditions 9.0 9.0 9.0
Walking on two legs: a pathway of Indigenous restoration and reconciliation in fire-adapted landscapes 7.0 8.0 7.0
Rekindling the Practice of Cultural Burning: An Act of Climate Hope - resilience 8.0 9.0 8.0
Indigenous Ecologies: Cultivating Fire Plants and Climate Futurity - California Native Plant Society (cnps.org) 9.0 9.0 9.0 9.0
Women in fire: Blazing through barriers US Forest Service (usda.gov) 9.0
Ecology Wildfire Science and Advancing Gender Equity 7.0 7.0
Women of wildfire: revolution superheroes and the case for diversity in fire management 7.0 7.0
The Women Fighting Fire With Fire 8.0 8.0 8.0
Women on Fire lighting up a new path 7.0 7.0
Reimagine fire science for the anthropocene 7.0
Opening Doors for Women in Fire with Melissa Forder 7.0
Women and diversity in the new paradigm of fire science 7.0
7.8 8.4 7.7 8.1 0.0

Action Items


Learn and share the science behind “good fire.” Public perception of fire as a threat shapes policies that hamper fire stewardship efforts. Educating yourself and others about fire ecology can help. Here are some key points to learn about fire ecology and the current state of fire:

Support the renewal of Indigenous fire stewardship. The suppression of Indigenous fire wisdom and practices has deeply harmed Indigenous communities and culture. Now that fire managers around the world are beginning to recognize the benefits of fire, they are looking to Indigenous leaders to bring ancient wisdom back into practice.

  • Learn more about the past, present, and future of fire stewardship through the eyes of Indigenous leaders on the Good Fire podcast and from Dr. Frank Lake, a Karuk and Yurok tribe member co-leading the reintroduction of prescribed fire in California’s Klamath River basin.
  • Follow Indigenous perspectives on current events, especially related to fire practices and policies, through news sources like High Country News.
  • Join or support collaborative efforts like the Indigenous Peoples Burning Network that are revitalizing traditional fire practices in a modern context. Refer to Key Players below for communities and organizations to support.

Practice and promote fire safety. Bringing good fire back to the land should be left to experts who work in controlled conditions, but we can all play a part in fire stewardship by preventing the start or spread of accidental fires—especially for those who live close to wild places, sometimes called the wildland-urban interface or WUI. According to a report from the WWF, 96 percent of the world's fires are now either deliberately lit or unintentionally caused by humans. You can help drive that number down through safer fire practices—whether it’s at home or on your next camping trip—by using basic fire best practices, such as good campfire etiquette, firework safety, and proper use of combustion engine equipment when in dry conditions.

Vote for policies and leaders that put fire ecology into practice. Keep an eye out for fire-related policies on the ballot and be sure to vote for fire management that is rooted in science. Learn from a few standout case studies in fire management below and check out the Governance section for more information.

Protect the land you live on. If you live near landscapes that are prone to fire, get to know those places and the people who care for them—from conservation nonprofits to local firefighters. Show your support by volunteering, donating, or spreading the word about their work.


Indigenous Peoples

Know your rights when sharing fire expertise. Ancestral knowledge and wisdom are critical to bringing fire’s natural role back into balance, and Indigenous people are owed respect and compensation for their contributions. Consider referencing these best practices developed by the Northern Australia Environmental Resources Hub as a baseline for what equitable partnership could look like when sharing fire stewardship practices in order to ensure a mutually beneficial and supportive exchange. A few of the key points:

Fire Management Leaders

Partner with fire ecologists and Indigenous fire stewards. The science and wisdom these two groups bring can help turn the tide on the current crisis around wildfires. Take guidance from a network of Indigenous leaders and consider these protocols for Indigenous partnerships based on past programs.

Land and Livestock Managers

Apply fire ecology knowledge and practices to your land. The way you care for your land and livestock can help reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire—protecting your livelihood and contributing to the greater good at the same time (see Regenerative Agriculture Nexus and Grasslands Nexus)

  • Find inspiration in programs across the U.S. that employ goats, sheep, and cattle to eat down plants that would otherwise become fuel for wildfires.
  • Seek expert guidance to use controlled burns on your land to clear brush that could otherwise catch and spread wildfire. Start by contacting your local land management authority or seeking a prescribed burn contractor database like this one compiled for the Southeastern United States.
  • In California, a land owner describes his experience in managing the trees on his property according to traditional ecological practices.


Build proactive fire management into policies. Though governments around the world have reason to view fire as an enemy, when properly managed, it has the potential to be an ally in moving toward a regenerative future. Unlocking that potential starts with tapping into fire ecology to inform smarter policies that move from reactive firefighting toward proactive fire stewardship. For example:

Allow Indigenous communities to care for their ancestral land. The majority of Indigenous cultures have occupied their homelands for thousands of years. The cumulative knowledge they have derived amounts to what could be called local or observational science—also called traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) – centuries of insight about how to interact with their homelands for the greatest benefit of the living systems we all depend on. Restoring Indigenous rights to care for their land is not only the right thing to do, but it will also benefit the environment and the surrounding community.

Deincentivize new development near wildfire-prone landscapes. From the Greek countryside to the arid wildlands of the American West, people settling at the edges of poorly managed ecosystems have created more opportunities for accidental, human-caused wildfires and increased the risk to lives, landscapes, and property. There are several ways for governments to step in:

  • Address housing crises in established residential areas to prevent sprawl into wildland areas.
  • Buy out fire-prone neighborhoods. Buyouts are voluntary sales, and the government pays fair-market value. The homes are demolished, and the property becomes open space—an approach that could be effective in the highest-risk areas.
  • Dissuade developers from building and homeowners from moving to fire-prone areas through higher insurance premiums. For example, bake mandatory third-party insurance into location-dependent property taxes for wildfires.
  • For communities already based in fire-prone places, governments should enforce defensible space and other fire-safety practices.

Bring more technological innovation to fire management. Powerful technology that can aid in fire management is evolving rapidly, but there are a few gaps that governments can help bridge:

  • Collect, coordinate, and centralize access to fire data: In 2019, an Australia-based company’s satellites detected the Kincade Fire in California wine country just sixty-six seconds after it started, and the fire was verified within three minutes by the ALERT wildfire system. Fire data like this is being collected around the world, but it needs to be centralized, coordinated and shared more widely so that all can access it. Investing in the technology that sources this data is key as well.
  • Support localized energy infrastructure: Invest in energy technology that’s less prone to cause wildfires in the first place, such as rooftop solar panels, batteries, and local wind turbines.

Invest in pyrogenic carbon storage. Emerging research suggests that charcoal produced by wildfires (called biochar) could trap carbon for hundreds of years and help mitigate climate change through a process called pyrogenic carbon capture and storage (PyCCS). Governments can fund research, technology, and implementation. See the Biochar Nexus to learn more.

Strengthen protections for fire-prone ecosystems. End cycles of degradation that make areas drier and more fire-prone by strengthening and building upon bedrock environmental laws (such as the Endangered Species Act in the U.S.) that provide critical backstops for ecosystems at risk of catastrophic fire. See the Desertification Nexus and Degraded Land Restoration Nexus for more.


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