By Katrina Vaitkus
Thanks to an NACD Technical Assistance (TA) Grant, the Sonoma Resource Conservation District (RCD) in California has their first ever professional forester. The district had wanted to bring someone on for a while, but they didn’t have the funds until 2018, when they were awarded their first TA grant. The grant allowed them to bring on Jason Wells as their registered professional forester.
According to Wells, interest in forest management was spurred by two fires in 2017, one of which burned through the city of Santa Rosa. “The RCD started being bombarded with questions about forest management, and they didn’t have anyone on staff that was capable of doing that,” said Wells. Thankfully, now they do. “Without this grant, I wouldn’t have been hired,” he said.
Wells works closely with their neighbor, Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District, to address forest health issues throughout Sonoma County. The county spans approximately one million acres, about 500,000 of which are forested. “We consider forests anything that has a tree canopy cover about 10 percent or more,” Wells said.
Wells spends most of his time working with landowners to develop Forest Management Plans using a California Cooperative Forest Management Plan template, which will allow landowners to access cost-share funds. These plans work to meet the goals and objectives set by the landowner, which Wells also often helps create.
“I think one of the biggest things about my position is that because forest management really hasn’t been something that people think about very much in this area, a lot of what I’m doing is providing general knowledge to people about forest management,” Wells said. “’Why should you do this? Why is this a beneficial thing? How is this working to create a working, better ecosystem?’ All of those kinds of things.”
Wells has spent time helping various partners in the county develop a Prescribed Burn Association (PBA), which helps bring people together to prevent wildfires. “A PBA is landowners helping landowners bring fire onto their property,” Wells said. He also offers insight into community wildfire protection plans, which identify fire-prone areas and recommend treatment methods and participates in many community workshops that focus on wildfire risk and forest heath.
The grant also gave Wells the opportunity to expand his knowledge base, learning about the local programs that could help landowners. “I’ve had the opportunity and the funding source to spend time researching everything. So, now, when I go talk to a landowner, I’m very comfortable knowing what they have available to them,” he said. “That, I think, was the biggest thing about this first grant.”