#9: Rick Halsey – Wildfire Ecology in the Chaparral and the American West

Summary

My guest today is noted wildfire and chaparral ecologist Rick Halsey. 

Rick authored the book “Fire, Chaparral, and Survival in Southern California”, and has given countless talks on the subject. 

Rick has a background in Environmental Studies, Anthropology, and Education, with degrees from University of California Santa Barbara, Cal State San Diego and UC Berkeley. 

In this episode we discuss the myths and realities of wildfire. There are many eye opening insights that, even today, get lost in the political rhetoric. We discuss the ecosystems of the west and their natural fire behaviors and how those were determined through charcoal records and tree ring analysis, the surprising negative impacts of fuel removal and prescribed burns, how indigenous fire management techniques fit into the discussion, simple solutions at the wildland-urban interface (WUI) such as exterior sprinkler systems, and much more.

In particular, we discuss the causes and factors leading to the Camp Fire that destroyed the town of Paradise, CA in 2018, the Yosemite Rim Fire, Oakland Hills Firestorm of 1991, and more.

While we focus extensively on California, the principles discussed apply to much of the west.

We take a few tangents in the discussion, including an insightful view of Rick’s education experience and approaches.

As an educator, Rick was the recipient of the Christa McAuliffe Fellowship. Over the years he’s fine-tuned his delivery and has a wonderful essay on his transformation from lecturer to the engage model.

Through the years, Rick has combined his educational skills and knowledge of ecology to focus on chaparral habitats – the most important habitat at the wildland/urban interface in California’s major cities. 


He is the founder and director of the California Chaparral Institute, which is dedicated to preserving what remains of California’s chaparral through scientific research, nature education, and activism. One of his quotes that really reflects his approach to nature education is “Our job as educators is not to convince everyone how smart we are. Our job is to convince people how smart they are.”

People and Organizations Discussed

Keith Lombardo, Ph. D. – researcher who correlated charcoal records and tree-ring data, among other accomplishments.

Jack Cohen, Ph. D. – fire researcher who has shown defensible space is only a small part of the equation for property owners – ember spread is more of an issue.

California Chaparral Institute – founded by Rick Halsey, dedicated to preserving what remains of California’s chaparral through scientific research, nature education, and activism.

WASP – vendor of exterior sprinklers to protect against ember-driven wildfires

Santa Monica National Recreation Area wildfire and chaparral resources

Books and Other Things Discussed

Note: links to books are affiliate links

Fire, Chaparral, and Survival in Southern California – the book that Rick Halsey wrote

The Camp Fire and the Paradise, CA disaster – actually partially burned over land that burned just 10 years ago.

Oakland Hills Firestorm of 1991 – a wind and ember-driven fire that burned many homes

Cedar Fire – massive wind-driven wildfire in 2003 in San Diego County

2007 California Fire Storm

Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park disaster – a community burned by the Tubbs Fire, built in an area known to have a fire history.

The Rim Fire at Yosemite National Park – started by an illegal backcountry camp fire

The study showing improved hospital recovery outcomes for patients facing a park,

Rick’s transformation from lecturer to the engage model

The American Birding Association (ABA) Podcast about Steve Maguire’s high school ornithology class.

The Nature Fix – Why Nature Makes us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative – by Florence Williams, a book that Rick recommends

Music Credits

Opening – Fearless First by Kevin MacLoed

Closing – Beauty Flow by Kevin MacLoed

Both can be obtained from https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/


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