Core-Team members from FireScape Mendocino (FSM) along with representatives from CALFIRE, Forest Service, the Resource Conservation District (RCD) of Tehama County, and Crane Mills recently toured portions of the 2020 August Complex Fire that burned over 1 million acres of private and public lands in or near the Mendocino, Six Rivers, and Shasta Trinity National Forests.
The field trip focused largely on reviewing burn severity and the efficacy of several fuel projects funded by California’s Climate Change Initiative (CCI) Grants and administered by the RCD of Tehama County in partnership with the Forest Service, Crane Mills, and CALFIRE. The grant originally was to treat over 5,000 acres of the Mendocino Forest and Crane Mills land. The project completed treatment of 2500 acres before the August Complex started. The tour was focused on effective implementation post fire.
The location of projects was also a topic of discussion where participants compared/contrasted the effectiveness of mid-slope roadside shaded fuel breaks vs. shaded fuel breaks sited on ridgetops.
Additionally, given that the treatment areas were just masticated before the fire started, it was discovered that rearranging fuels was not as effective as other sites that fared better, given the material was allowed to decompose. The fuel load left on the forest floor helped carry fire and potentially caused the roots of the confers to cook. The project team thought that this next winter will be critical to determining the fate of the conifers that survived the fire.
It appeared to the group the fuel projects that incorporated a biomass component into the prescription burned with less severity and had a higher tree survival rate. Based on field observations and group discussions, it appeared that removing post-mastication woody debris was a critical factor to the success of the project.
The group also discussed the logistical challenges of bio massing and the needs for state/federal subsidizes to help offset the cost of trucking the material to co-generation plants. Additional challenges include the economic viability of co-generation plants with numerous plant closers.
In order to increase pace and scale of project development, the project teamed discussed the importance of continued collaboration with state and federal agencies in an effort to help expedite the critical project development process.
Also given the area’s infamous and unpredictable wind patterns, it looked like mid-slope roadside fuel projects were not as successful as those located on ridgetops.
The group felt there is a lot we can learn from studying the burn severity in varying types of fuel projects tested by the August Complex Fire. Given our limited resources compared to the size of the fire, it is important that resource managers consider biomass-centric fuel projects located near or on ridgetops.
Don Amador, Core-Team Lead for FSM, states, “My big takeaway from the field trip was the important role that biomass has in the success of future fuel projects and also the need for California to invest in locating biomass plants near the Forest to facilitate biomass removal that could create energy, wood products, and local jobs.”
“FSM believes we have a duty and responsibility to engage with local communities and partners to help build our capacity to plan for and implement future fuel reduction projects and post wildfire recovery/restoration efforts,” Amador concludes.
Jon Barrett, Project Manager for the Resource Conservation District of Tehama County, stressed the importance of continued collaboration with stakeholders during project development in an effort to address environmental concerns before they become wrapped up in the legal process, stalling much needed project implementation in an effort to get in front of the fuel loads in Forest.
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