Developing Phase: Developing an Indigenous-led Fire Prescription

We need fire in the fall and spring. Fire controls plants, the plants that animals do not eat. Fall fire means spring growth, the moose go straight to the new green growth.

nitawēnitānan iskotēw ka takwakēk ēkwa ka sēkwāk. iskotēw wīcītaw maskēko pakwa, macipakwa n’mwac pisisikiwāk ka mīcicik. ka takwakēk ka pasisikāniwāk sēkwāni oskayi askiy kistikāna nītikina, moswak sēmak ka mīcisowāk ōskiy kistikāna
Listen to Cree

-Howard McKenzie (Cree)

After developing a rationale statement, developing goals and management objectives provide further context for a group or community’s Indigenous-led fire prescription.

Goals are generally a long-term outcome for what groups and communities want to achieve with their Indigenous-led fire prescription; and

Management objectives are concise time-specific statements that outline core values about uses of fire on the land. These are values defined by a group or community and help determine what the Indigenous-led fire prescription is to achieve to be considered successful.

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Developing an Indigenous-Led Fire Prescription 

So, your group or community understands key terms, appreciates holistic values and has now developed a rationale—let’s start developing an Indigenous-led fire prescription.

Inspired by the principles of the Balanced Scorecard, reflect on and answer the following questions:

(These questions were originally considered for the Saskatchewan River Delta, but they can be applied to your specific site.)

Community 

1. What values are expected to be delivered to the community when returning, continuing, expanding or supporting uses of fire on the land?

 

Operations/Process

2. What are the proposed timeframes for returning, continuing, expanding or supporting uses of fire on the land?

 

3. What Indigenous and non-Indigenous laws, protocols, policies and practices will your group or community be working within to return, continue, expand or support uses of fire on the land?

 

Finances

4. What are the costs for returning, continuing, expanding or supporting uses of fire on the land?

 

5. How will these costs be covered?

 

Organizational capacity (learning and growth)

6. Who will be leading the return, continuation, expansion or support of uses of fire on the land?

 

7. What are the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to return, continue, expand or support uses of fire on the land?

 

8. What types of relationships are needed for the Indigenous-led fire prescription?

 

9. What strategies are in place to build relationships in developing the Indigenous-led fire prescription?

 

10. What strategies are in place to build relationships in implementing the Indigenous-led fire prescription?

 

11. What type of training or knowledge sharing is needed to ensure burning is done in an appropriate, good and safe way?

 

© 2023 Muskrats to Moose Project Team

When returning, continuing, expanding or supporting uses of fire on the land through the application of Indigenous-led fire practices and settler and state-led fire management, it is important to consider the following dimensions of fire:

Seasonality

Consider the time of year to engage in burning. Base your decision on the state of readiness of both the group or community and the ecosystem to minimize fire risks while harnessing the benefits of fire on the land.

For example, in the Saskatchewan River Delta, small-scale, low-intensity fire is applied in the early spring when the grass is dry, but the soil is still moist, and the surrounding areas are too wet to carry a fire. 

Frequency

Consider the number of ignitions and available fuel to aid in the journey of Indigenous-led uses of fire on the land. The frequency of fire application is based on the group or community’s goals and management objectives.

For example, in the Saskatchewan River Delta, the land is burned annually to improve muskrat forage and habitat.

Extent of burning

Indigenous-led fire practices can range from low-intensity, small-scale burns to landscape-level burning that meets group or community objectives.

For example, in the Saskatchewan River Delta, burns to improve muskrat habitat are done in winter months when fire behaviour and intensity are low. For phragmites (reed grass) burns, ice conditions must be safe so burn sites can be accessed.

Site

Like the extent of fires, the location of fires is intended to meet group or community objectives based on specific land conditions, for example, annual migration staging areas for select species and terrain.

In the Saskatchewan River Delta, site selection for muskrat burns is based on community knowledge of where phragmites hinder the quality of muskrat habitat. Site selection for specific burn(s) on a certain day depends on access and burning conditions. Wind direction plays a role in deciding which site is burned, with control and safety top of mind.

The following Indigenous-led fire prescription template is based on the work of the cross-cultural collaboration between Indigenous trappers, Indigenous communities and orders of governments (e.g., Government of Saskatchewan) in developing the Cumberland Delta Resource Management Fires Burn Plan.

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Indigenous-Led Fire Prescription Template 

Title: [INSERT THE NAME OF YOUR INDIGENOUS-LED FIRE PRESCRIPTION]

Disclaimer: This template should not be used without first receiving competent guidance in Indigenous-led fire practices and settler and state-led fire management to see if it is suitable for any general or specific application to a site. As burning approval processes vary in every area, please contact your local Indigenous communities, local fire region and regional wildfire agencies. Overall, it is important to foster and sustain good relationships and partnerships in developing an Indigenous-led fire prescription.

Think carefully about each dimension of the Indigenous-led fire prescription, the timeline for the work, resources needed and who you need to tell about the Indigenous-led fire prescription. Be thorough.

Where possible, use local Indigenous language(s) throughout the Indigenous-led fire prescription to acknowledge and celebrate cultural revitalization of fire practices on the land.

Date:

 

Include the date of the Indigenous-led fire prescription.

Our team:

 

Here, list the person, group or community with the authority to prescribe the burn and who will submit the Indigenous-led fire prescription to the appropriate approval agency or agencies (for example, Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency).

General intent of the Indigenous-led fire prescription:

Why do you need to burn this specific site/area?

Here, describe the overall vision for the Indigenous-led fire prescription, stating the holistic values.

 

Rationale:

The rationale is a summary statement of your purpose, aspirations and how you want to use fire on the land for community protection, ecosystem stewardship, habitat restoration, climate change adaptation planning or land management. This part should include the cultural objectives for burning.

 

Goals and objectives of our burn:

Goals are generally a long-term outcome for what groups and communities want to achieve with their Indigenous-led fire prescription.

Management objectives are concise time-specific statements that outline core values about uses of fire on the land. These are values defined by a group or a community and aid in determining what the Indigenous-led fire prescription is to achieve to be considered successful.

 

Where are we going to burn? What does it look like? What is the size of burn? (include maps):

Here, provide a description of the site(s), size and location where the Indigenous-led fire prescription will take place.

Include map(s) in the appendix of the Indigenous-led fire prescription.

 

What is the fire history of the site(s)?

Here, provide a description of past Indigenous-led fire practices and settler and state-led fire management carried out on the site(s) and location(s) where the Indigenous-led fire prescription will take place.

If possible, include fire history map(s).

 

Inventory and sampling of flora and fauna in priority Indigenous-led fire prescription areas:

The inventory of flora and fauna identifies needs and interests for engaging in Indigenous-led fire practices or settler and state-led fire management on site(s) and location(s) where the Indigenous-led fire prescription is to take place.

 

What time of the year does the fire need to happen? How long will the burn take?

Here, describe the season and duration of the Indigenous-led fire prescription.

 

How much will this burn cost? How will we pay for it?

Here, provide an overview of how the costs of the Indigenous-led fire prescription will be covered and by whom.

Think about partners you can reach out to for resources such as cash and in-kind contributions or donations.

 

Who will light the fire and how?

List the individual or group who will light the fire and determine how the fire is lit.

For example, a local trapper, selected community member or Traditional Ecological Knowledge Team may determine how to light the fire and then light it.

 

What is in place on the land to keep the fire under control?

Here, you might consider the land elements that may keep the fire under control, for example, natural fire breaks (water including lakes, rivers, creeks, tributaries, exposed soil or rock, previous burns, snow) or fire guards (recently burned strips, black lines).

 

What is our plan if the fire becomes out of control?

Indigenous-led fire practices are carried out using the best available expertise and knowledge to reduce risk, including selecting low risk times of the year to burn with appropriate fire breaks.

However, there is always a risk with fire of a burn escaping, for example, if there is an unexpected gust of wind.

Consider having resources onsite to put out any spot fires, including equipment, water and people trained in firefighting.

 

Do we need to consider smoke?

Indigenous-led fire practices emit much less smoke than an out-of-control wildfire. However, there will still be smoke in the air.

Some people may have sensitivities to this.

Do you need to inform neighbours that you will be burning?

Your Elders and Indigenous fire practitioners may also carry knowledge about how to reduce smoke for the type of burn you are planning.

Weather forecast and communication with the local wildfire centre can help inform these concerns, for example, expected wind direction and good venting days: smoke going vertical versus horizontal.

Location and site specific factors add to these considerations. For example, some of the muskrat burn sites will only be burned when the wind is in a certain direction to control the fire and to carry smoke away from the community.

 

Do we have any concerns about this burn?

This is where you identify potential risks and the conditions that would make the burn team decide that they will not burn that day.

Identify parts of the burn site(s) that may be next to fuels that could send embers over line or areas that may be challenging to keep under control.

The ways that those concerns could be reduced can be included in the next section regarding site preparations.

 

How does the site need to be prepared for a burn to occur?

This section includes what is in place to keep the fire under control such as black lining ahead of the main burn occurring.

Also, this section may include logistics and planning for how the site will be accessed, safety areas, emergency exit plans, and perhaps some work to reduce fuel load or increase fuel load to keep fire at a desired intensity.

 

Who should be involved in this burn? How will we get them involved?

For the Indigenous-led fire prescription, communicate with the local rightsholders and stakeholders in the form of information sharing/notification and consulting.

As an example, for the muskrat burns, the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency (SPSA) has to follow the First Nations and Métis Consultation Policy Framework and provide notification letters to First Nations and Métis communities in and around the Saskatchewan River Delta on behalf of the fur blocks.

 

Communications plan/notification schedule:

Describe how the Indigenous-led fire prescription will be communicated to rightsholders and stakeholders.

Think about how you will promote and share information about the Indigenous-led fire prescription with others.

Who are the people that should know about and participate in the Indigenous-led fire prescription?

Where will rightsholders and stakeholders get information about the Indigenous-led fire prescription and from whom?

Messages about the Indigenous-led fire prescription should be informative, persuasive and sincere.

 

Other notes and considerations:

Include any additional notes and considerations that may affect and influence the Indigenous-led fire prescription.

 

Names, signatures and date:

Add names, signature lines and dates for all rightsholders and stakeholders involved in the Indigenous-led fire prescription.

 

Appendix A: Indigenous fire-led prescription site map(s)

Include Indigenous-led fire prescription site map(s).

 

© 2023 Muskrats to Moose Project Team

Your group or community will likely be using Indigenous Science and Indigenous Ecological Knowledge during the Indigenous-led fire prescription process.

This is an important reminder to determine how Indigenous Science and Indigenous Ecological Knowledge will be collected, protected, used and shared.

For more information about data sovereignty, check out the First Nations Information Governance Centre’s OCAP Standards – Ownership, Control, Access and Possession.

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Checklist: Developing an Indigenous-Led Fire Prescription 

Confirm that you completed the following activities when developing your Indigenous-led fire prescription:

checkboxPerform initial scoping and decision-making, for example, determine focus, who is involved, technical assistance needs and budget.

checkboxBuild and maintain support with leadership and community, for example, outreach and education.

checkboxSeek group or community approval of resolution supporting the Indigenous-led fire prescription.

checkboxCreate an Indigenous-led fire prescription planning team and select a team leader or co-leaders.

checkboxHold dialogue sessions for the Indigenous-led fire prescription planning team to reach consensus.

checkboxEstablish a rationale for the Indigenous-led fire prescription.

checkboxDevelop an Indigenous-led fire prescription planning guide that outlines the goals, process, schedule, responsibilities and outcomes (success factors) of the Indigenous-led fire prescription.

checkboxForm partnerships within communities, groups and other organizations or agencies.

checkboxSeek and secure funding to support the Indigenous-led fire prescription.

checkboxGather relevant data by reaching out to Indigenous fire practitioners and subject matter experts regarding Indigenous-led uses of fire on the land, particularly for the specified site. Develop scenarios based on available information.

checkboxIdentify and characterize current and projected effects of Indigenous-led uses of fire on the land based on holistic values.

checkboxAssess vulnerabilities and risks of those holistic values in relation to challenges and barriers and opportunities and strengths of using fire on the land.

checkboxPrioritize site location(s) and size for development of the Indigenous-led fire prescription.

checkboxDevelop goals and management objectives for priority Indigenous-led fire prescription areas.

checkboxDevelop, assess and select actions to achieve defined goals and management objectives for priority Indigenous-led fire prescription areas.

checkboxPrepare and document the Indigenous-led fire prescription.

checkboxProvide a draft of the Indigenous-led fire prescription for review by others and finalize plan.

checkboxSeek group or community approval of the Indigenous-led fire prescription

checkboxBraid Western Science practices into the Indigenous-led fire prescription, where appropriate.

© 2023 Muskrats to Moose Project Team