It was early October in 2020, after I watched a new episode of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, that I realized the story about fire in California had really changed. A late-night comedian, Noah summed up in about 10 minutes the effects of climate change, fire suppression, and cultural and prescribed burns in California, more or less accurately. I thought to myself, “If the information Bay Nature has been reporting on for the last 15 years about fire is now on national late-night television, it’s time to tell the next part of the story.”
The 2020 fire season combined with the 2021 drought and snowpack conditions have changed California, and the Newsom administration’s historic 2021 proposed budget is testament to a new era. By the time this issue of Bay Nature hits mailboxes, the budget will likely have been approved. It prioritizes addressing climate change, especially wildfire, with an $11.8 billion investment over multiple years. State Secretary for Environmental Protection Jared Blumenfeld called the proposed budget “an inflection-point for California,” and “a day many have been waiting for.”
Roughly $2 billion of the proposed budget is devoted to wildfires, with a combined emphasis on protecting lives and buildings during wildfire season, and looking toward future prevention. At least $70 million will pay for controlled fires on public lands, and $20 million will support cultural burns by California tribes. It’s safe to say that a meaningful next part of the story is controlled fire—fires intentionally set by people to manage the land. These fires, as well as wildfires, will increasingly become an aspect of life in California and how we experience nature—the air, water, and landscapes.
This issue of Bay Nature explores living with fire in the Bay Area and is the first themed edition in the magazine’s history. Every story considers the impacts of fire on our relationship to nature. Reporter Mukta Patil examines the future of controlled burns and a new culture around fire in the Bay Area. Plains Miwok and pyrogeographer Don Hankins writes on choosing the kind of smoke we live with. We answer often-asked questions about the impacts of fire on wildlife with two stories: Marissa Ortega-Welch reports on long-term camera-trap research, and James Reddick highlights a new network of veterinarians treating wildlife injured during blazes. And there are stories on learning to see regrowth and resilience in burned landscapes.
We’ve devoted these 48 pages to imagining life in the Bay Area as one that includes smoke in the air, but not the toxic wildfire plumes of the last four years; burned landscapes that we know and love, but not incinerated to a point of no return; and a manageable, nuanced understanding of fire that does not dictate our lives, but improves them. It’s time we start to consider that new life, the next part of the story.