In the midst of one of the worst wildfire seasons on record in California, Western Shasta County Resource Conservation District (RCD) continues working on fire reduction and fire prevention through fuel breaks and preparing communities for wildfires and how to prevent them.
The RCD was working on installing a fuel break near French Gulch when the Carr Fire broke out in late July, cutting off access to the area and delaying the project.
“The fuel break we were putting in is well placed, and we were about a quarter of the way done,” Gary Lauben, Firewise USA project manager, said. “I’ve received a couple of reports from that area that said they believed it helped, but I haven’t been able to verify that.” Firewise USA is a wildfire risk reduction program that teaches people how to adapt to living with wildfire and encourages neighbors to work together and take action now to prevent losses.
“We don’t know until we can get back there and assess the situation and assess other fuel breaks to see how they worked and if firefighters were able to use the fuel breaks and to what extent,” Chester Anderson, RCD district manager, said.
The RCD also recently completed a fuel break just north of the city of Shasta Lake, which is just east of the wildfire that continues to burn more than 217,000 acres, as well as Shingletown, Calif., further east of the Carr Fire.
However, the RCD is poised to shift its focus to assist in whatever ways it can to address the wildfire efforts, including recovery, with its partners, one of which is the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE).
“We will still work on existing contracts for fuel breaks that we have, but I think our efforts will go toward the stabilization aspect,” Anderson said. “Once we have an evaluation of fuel breaks and defensible space, we’ll see if those are efforts we want to expand on or look away from and look at other ideas.”
The shift to erosion control and recovery after the wildfire will not eliminate efforts devoted to fuels reduction.
“We want to hopefully make it a teaching moment where we can let people know what they can do to increase their chances during a wildfire and that has to do with defensible space,” Lauben said. “The science for that has been evolving, and there are new studies done every year about best practices to do around your home.”
Lauben continues working on the Firewise USA project in Shingletown, Calif. CAL FIRE recently did an assessment of the residences to determine what works, what needs improvement and what should be addressed immediately to reduce fire risk.
“It’s always a collaboration and often the places that get things done have someone who is enthusiastic enough to communicate with us,” Lauben said.
The Shasta County Board of Supervisors is reviewing an appointment to bring on a forester to enhance and broaden work with private landowners, and the RCD has been relying on a part-time coordinator to assist in securing grant dollars.
“We really need to educate our landowners, and not only the landowners, but the public,” Forester Lois Kaufman said. “I don’t know that the public realizes that as you’re standing in the forest, that’s the silent workforce that’s giving you clean air and clean water and recreational opportunities. It shouldn’t be so difficult to manage that workforce, and doing nothing is not management.”
“With the exclusion of fire and management on the landscape, it’s coming to a head right now, as we’re experiencing these fires,” Kaufman said.
With Kaufman’s connections to the American Forest Foundation, American Tree Farm System and My Sierra Woods, she and the RCD aim to reach more landowners and secure more funding for additional fuels reductions and forest health work in an area wrought with prime wildfire conditions.
The American Forest Foundation recently secured a $9 million grant. Kaufman says it can assist the RCD in some projects. The American Forest Foundation board is reviewing the funding requirements and plans to meet with partners soon, she said.
“Between the RCD and Tree Farm, we’re doing the same things, but we need to work more together to accomplish our goals,” Kaufman said. “The way the world has changed in the natural resources, you can no longer stand alone. You have to partner.”
The focus on education is shifting to asking landowners what they want to see and then showing them how selective thinning and defensible areas will enhance wildlife and maintain privacy, Kaufman said.
Combine that with additional grant sources and funding for fuels reduction projects, and the RCD plans to continue to increase its efforts to protect communities, wildlife and water quality.
“I think it’s a combination of education and other best practices for defensible space, and well-placed fuel breaks and fuel reductions, and keep trying to get funding for it,” Lauben said. “The one bright spot in this is we’ve got national focus on us right now, and hopefully that will be a teaching moment for homeowners and politicians.”