Submitted by Feather River College
Special to Plumas News
Fire is on everyone’s mind and for good reason. The residents of Plumas and neighboring Butte County have seen terrifying losses as a result of wildfire this year. This fire season has been a sober reminder that our forests are meant to burn, and we can only hold fire off from the landscape for so long before it will return with a vengeance. As we look to the future and work to manage our local forests in a way that will allow them to be more resilient, one important tool will be the use of prescribe fire.
Next Thursday, Oct. 22 from 4-6 p.m., Feather River College, along with the Feather River Resource Conservation District, the Plumas Underburn Cooperative and the Plumas Fire safe Council, will be hosting an outdoor information session about a prescribed fire that is scheduled to take place on the FRC campus this November. The table session will be held on the FRC green, behind the library building, and is meant to provide a casual forum where community members can stop in to ask questions about the planned fire and the hosts can provide general information about the history, value and use of prescribed fire as a forest management tool. Attendees will also have a chance to take a short tour of the planned burn site at 4:30, 5:00, and 5:30. Please be aware the guests to the Feather River College campus are required to wear masks.
The planned fire is part of a Cal-TREX prescribed fire training event. These events have been held across the state for over a decade and are designed to accomplish local fuels reduction and ecological restoration goals, while providing an opportunity for individuals to gain valuable training in the use of prescribed fire. The TREX model provides peer-to-peer learning for fire professionals, allowing them to gain certifications and valuable on-the-ground experience. These events are held in an effort to increase the number of qualified personnel able to work on professional as well as private prescribed fire projects. It is a model that supports groups like our local 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, as well as other community 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. Matt West, the group’s coordinator, has be instrumental in planning this fall’s TREX burn.
The upcoming burn will support work that Feather River College is pursuing to make its campus ecosystem more resilient and fire safe. In the last decade, the college has partnered with NRCS and the Greenville Rancheria fire crew to construct fire line and thin and burn piles along the hill on the south side of upper campus. This year, thanks to the efforts by campus Forest Management Plan Coordinator Darrel Jury, Feather River College was awarded a $300,000 grant from the Sierra Nevada Conservancy to support forest restoration and fire safety work as part of a Watershed Improvement Project. Project goal is restore the campus ecosystem, through forest thinning and under burning. This work will support ecosystem resilience and reduce the risk of devasting loss and ecosystem destruction through unplanned wildfire. The campus was also awarded a national Firewise designation in the last year, as a result of the current and planned work they are pursuing to make their campus and community fire safe. All of these programs provide valuable hands-on learning opportunities for students, particularly those in the Environmental Studies program, which trains students to work in natural resources and ecosystem management.
Hannah Hepner, of the Plumas Firesafe Council, has been working along with other local groups to bring this TREX event to Plumas County for many years, and this will be the first such event held within Plumas County. Brad Graevs, the District Manager of the Feather River Resources Conservation District (RCD), is working with local partners to create an official burn plan, and is scheduled to get fire on the ground at Feather River College one weekend between Oct. 24 and Nov. 22. Of course, the implementation of the fire is weather dependent. There is a narrow range of weather parameters (temperature, humidity, winds, and fuel moisture) that will allow for a prescribed fire to take place safely and legally. 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. However, they also know that prescribed fire is a tool that can help mitigate smoke pollution as compared to uncontrolled wildfire. This fire, along with other prescribed fires, requires permitting by the Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District.
In addition to the Feather River RCD, the Plumas Underburn Cooperative, and the Plumas County Fire Safe Council and Feather River College, TREX cooperators include the University of California Cooperative Extension, Chico State University Ecological Reserve, and the Plumas National Forest. The Cal-TREX events have received planning and implementation support from the Directors of Fire Management at the Watershed Research & Training Center (WRTC) based out of Trinity County, California and funding for this project is provided by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, as part of the California Climate Investments Program.