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Quincy High School students work on a Storrie Fire fuels reduction project during the 2012-13 school year. Photos courtesy Mt. Hough Ranger District
The Storrie Fire burned 52,000 acres in summer 2000, wreaking havoc on the Plumas and Lassen national forests and surrounding communities.
In 2008, the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil lawsuit against Union Pacific Railroad resulted in a $102 million precedent-setting settlement awarded to the U.S. Forest Service.
The award covers not only the actual costs of fighting the fire (about $22 million), but the impact on scenic and recreational values, destroyed timber and restoration efforts.
Plumas and Lassen National Forests received $40 million each and have collaborated on a 10-year restoration plan for the fire area.
Part of that plan incorporates Plumas Unified School District as a partner.
Mt. Hough Ranger District’s Michelle Jimenez-Holtz, education liaison for the Storrie Fire restoration team, said the primary focus of the partnership is restoration.
Rob Wade, well known to teachers and sixth-graders district-wide for his outdoor education programs, runs the school district side of the partnership.
Since the partnership began in 2010, much of the groundwork has been accomplished. Specific projects in many different forest areas, such as wildlife monitoring, tree planting, trail maintenance, erosion control and fuels reduction have been identified, implemented and lined up for the future.
Tools, safety equipment, curricula and teachers are already on board and the program is ready to hit the ground running when school resumes in the fall.
Portola High School science teacher Brad Miller taught a full section of fire science in the 2012-13 school year. His students completed a 32-hour class in wildland firefighting and received their certification as well as course credit in physical science.
This kind of win-win-win program (the Forest Service, school district and students all benefit) is a unique and history-in-the-making partnership not seen elsewhere.
Students gain real-world experience, science education and technical skills, the schools gain new science and career technical education classes, and the Forest Service gets help on restoration projects.
Wade said that 782 students, some as young as third grade, participated in educational field trips last school year.
He expects participation this year to be more frequent and expanded, now that the stakeholders have experience and a proven curriculum under their belts.
Last year’s successful Hallsted Campground projects included fabricating and installing 750 feet of split rail fencing, fuels reduction and installation of campfire rings and campsite and lantern posts.
In rugged, burned areas, where Forest Service biologists identified a need, students built and installed bird-nesting boxes and learned how to monitor them.
More projects are being identified and developed. Wade said next year, district schools can start right in with field trips.
The Storrie Fire Restoration Project Collaboration paid for Wade’s position as part-time coordinator, student transportation, extra-duty teacher training time, substitute teacher salaries, personal protection gear, Klean Kanteen water bottles and other associated expenses.
Thus far, Wade estimates $400,000 has been spent on the project, a multiyear collaboration that the partners are excited about continuing.
For more information, contact Jimenez-Holtz at 283-7643 or email@example.com.
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