A unique fire prevention program in the Sierra National Forest teams up bilingual children of Southeast Asian descent with fire prevention personnel to help communicate with the large number of Southeast Asians expected to visit the forest, especially for the opening of tree squirrel season.
Because many adults of Southeast Asian heritage are not yet proficient in English, they often are not aware of fire restrictions in effect. The students in the program serve as interpreters for forest personnel who must ensure the restrictions are understood and followed especially in light of the dry conditions in the Sierra.
About 20 seventh- and eighth-graders from Yosemite Middle School and Fresno United School District participated last year. For three days they rode along with U.S. Forest Service, Southern California Edison, and California Fish and Game personnel on their regular patrols through the nation forest. The Ride-Along program includes a two-night camp-out at Clearwater Ranger Station, where students will receive other outdoor education.
The children were Hmong, Laotian, Cambodian and Vietnamese. Since the end of America’s involvement in the Viet Nam war, approximately 600,000 Southeast Asian refugees have come to California. In their homelands education, when available, was often limited to the third-grade level. Most were self-employed in slash-and-burn agriculture or crafts. In California, many use hunting to complement their subsistence, which has resulted in an increase in person-caused wildfires on National Forest lands.
Demographic projections indicate that 75 percent of California population growth into the next century will be Hispanic and Asian. Program organizers believed that a fire prevention program which was not responsive to the projected influx of this non-traditional forest user was destined to failure. The first effort to communicate the prevention massage was through handouts translated into Laotian and Hmong.
Much planning went into the Ride-Along program. Among the considerations were: transportation logistics for the students; sleeping arrangements; security; meals; media contact and news releases; and school district coordination. The long range goals of the program are:
To provide an educational program to the Southeast Asia community on fire prevention and fish and game regulations
To instill in students a love for land stewardship, so it may shared with families and become a life-long pursuit
To provide an opportunity and experience for students and land stewards to strengthen social skills, clarify values and develop self-confidence and positive self-esteem.
This information was taken from “Wildfire News and Notes”, Vol. 4, No. 3 (May/June 1990), published by:
National Fire Protection Association
1 Batterymarch Park P.O. Box 9101 USA-Quincy, MA 02269-9101