It has been a rare opportunity to utilize prescribed fire across land-ownerships in Plumas County, but that is the goal of the Plumas County Cal-TREX event planned for this fall. TREX is short for “prescribed fire training exchange” — an event that brings fire professionals together with non-traditional partners in a joint effort to restore the ecological and community protection benefits of “good fire.”
Using an “All Hands, All Lands” approach to increase the number of qualified personnel able to work on professional prescribed fire projects, the TREX model provides peer-to-peer learning and training for fire professionals to gain certifications and experience. It is a model that supports groups like the Plumas Underburn Cooperative (PUC).
PUC is a local group of citizens who assist each other in the use of prescribed fire on private lands. The group helps landowners navigate permitting, logistics, and provides tools and volunteers on burn days. Many PUC members have an interest in furthering their experience with prescribed fire, so the TREX event is a welcome opportunity to participate in something that is often accessible only to agency employees.
TREX events have been taking place across the country for over a decade, but this is the first time that the opportunity has come to Plumas County.
The upcoming TREX event is planned over five weekends starting Oct. 24 through Nov. 22. The hope is that conditions will be favorable for underburning at one, or more, of the potential locations during that time. If the conditions don’t line up to utilize live fire during those dates, participants can take advantage of alternative activities including field trips and hands-on training.
TREX events usually draw participants from a large regional area, however, due to COVID-19 the event will be almost completely focused on Plumas County resident participation. Participants can range from college students earning their basic firefighter qualifications to seasoned fire professionals receiving experiences to qualify as a burn boss or specialized incident command positions. Registration is open now for those who are interested. Further details about the TREX event, including participant information and registration details, can be found at www.plumasfiresafe.org/trex
While smoke continues to impact local air quality and containment of the North Complex is ongoing, the cooperating entities of Plumas County Cal-TREX see prescribed fire as a critical tool to get ahead of the problem. Fire plays a key ecological role in the Sierra Nevada, but that role has been absent for well over a century.
The wildfires of today are a result of multiple factors, but a powerful driver of extreme fire behavior is the accumulation of vegetation (or “fuels”) untreated by what use to be regular intervals of fire.
“We have to assume that every year is going to be like this year. We need to be proactive or we are all going to get burned,” warns Brad Graevs, the District Manager for the Feather River Resource Conservation District (RCD). Among a wide range of conservation efforts that his organization undertakes, a priority is working with private and public landowners to reduce wildfire risk.
That is a goal shared with the Plumas County Fire Safe Council, a local non-profit with a mission to reduce losses from wildfire through pre-fire activities. For several years Hannah Hepner, coordinator for the Plumas County Fire Safe Council, has been working with local partners to bring a TREX event to Plumas County.
Of TREX Hepner says, “It provides a unique opportunity to cooperatively burn across ownership boundaries which helps to reduce barriers in the use of fire and results in a more spatially appropriate treatment. As an employee of a non-profit, TREX provides me personally with training that’s difficult to access outside of an agency.”
In 2018, the Plumas County Fire Safe Council was awarded a California Climate Investments grant from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to undertake a cross boundary underburn in Spanish Ranch. The project utilizes roads and topography to delineate unit boundaries, rather than property ownership. The planned burn will cross from Plumas National Forest lands onto Soper-Wheeler Company property in an initiative that will help both land ownerships meet their management objectives.
The Spanish Ranch prescribed burn will provide a valuable fuel break around the community of Meadow Valley. After over a month of uncertainty about the Bear Fire’s potential to impact the community, residents were faced with a mandatory evacuation order.
On the day that Meadow Valley resident Michelle Fulton was able to return home she commented that “Firewise initiatives in the area have been helpful to prepare the community, but it’s an effort that requires the attention of everyone. We’re encouraged to see that our large, forested neighbors are being proactive about protecting the community. As an ecologist, I value prescribed fire as an ecologically appropriate tool that, when used under the right conditions, will provide a huge benefit to forest health and the community.”
Those favorable conditions are what the TREX planners are looking for. There is a narrow range of weather parameters (temperature, humidity, winds, and fuel moisture) that will allow for a prescribed fire to take place. Under those conditions, an underburn has the potential to reduce overgrown understory and surface fuels such as logs and branches.
TREX planners are also looking for weather conditions that reduce smoke impacts to surrounding communities. After a month of hazardous air quality, TREX planners are aware that tolerating more smoke is a lot to ask from residents. One of the benefits of prescribed fire is that air quality issues can be mitigated when compared to smoke from a wildfire. And prescribed fire requires permitting by the Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District.
The exact location of the underburns will be dependent on the conditions during the weekends of the event. In addition to Spanish Ranch, there is the potential to underburn at Feather River College in Quincy, the Feather River Land Trust’s Heart K Ranch in Genesee Valley, Forest Service units south of Taylorsville and on the Feather River Ranger District, and private land in Genesee Valley.
TREX events usually build in community outreach nights that are open to the public. The limits that COVID-19 puts on the event mean that TREX cooperators are instead asking residents for input and comments via a webpage: www.plumasfiresafe.org/trex-info. The page includes additional information about the Plumas County Cal-TREX event as well as FAQs.
TREX planners are also scheduling multiple small community outreach meetings prior to the burns to provide information about the site-specific burn planning and to incorporate public comments. Those event dates will be posted on the webpage in the near future.
In addition to the Plumas Underburn Cooperative, the Feather River RCD, and the Plumas County Fire Safe Council, event cooperators include the University of California Cooperative Extension, Chico State University Ecological Reserve, and Plumas National Forest.
In recent years, Plumas National Forest has undertaken several successful TREX events in Butte County. These organizations are supported in event planning and implementation by the Directors of Fire Management at the Watershed Research & Training Center (WRTC) based out of Trinity County, California. WRTC is leveraging a relationship with The Nature Conservancy to provide a qualified burn boss for private lands.
Funding for this project is provided by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection as part of the California Climate Investments Program.
The Plumas Collaborative Forest Health Project, which includes the Spanish Ranch underburn, is part of California Climate Investments, a statewide program that puts billions of Cap-and-Trad dollars to work reducing GHG emissions, strengthening the economy, and improving public health and the environment – particularly in disadvantaged communities. The Cap-and-Trade program also creates a financial incentive for industries to invest in clean technologies and develop innovative ways to reduce pollution.
California Climate Investments projects include affordable housing, renewable energy, public transportation, zero-emission vehicles, environmental restoration, more sustainable agriculture, recycling, and much more. At least 35 percent of these investments are located within and benefiting residents of disadvantaged communities, low-income communities, and low-income households across California. For more information, visit the California Climate Investments website at: www.caclimateinvestments.ca.gov