Save the Redwoods League has successfully completed our first forestland prescribed burn at our Beaver Creek property! In collaboration with CAL FIRE, California State Parks, and our contractor Firestorm, a 20-acre unit of the 320-acre property was treated with fire last Friday under the guidance and supervision of our burn boss Ben Jacobs. This was the first ever prescribed burn on a League-owned property. The project was funded by the Prop 1 grant from the Sierra Nevada Conservancy and the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund –California Climate Initiative (GGRF–CCI) grant from CAL FIRE.
It all seemed to happen so fast—scheduling took place over the course of three days—but this project has actually been years in the making. After the initial discussions and planning, we booked the first attempt to burn the unit in 2017 with a Training Exchange program (TREX) sponsored by The Nature Conservancy. In the month prior to the burn, wildfires broke out in Sonoma County, putting the project on hold. In 2018, we tried again with TREX but had to cancel due to the wildfires that devastated the town of Paradise. In spring 2019, we made our third attempt but fell out of prescription and couldn’t burn under the available resources and weather conditions. (The burn plan, initially drafted by our former Forest Fellow Andrew Slack and then expanded and finalized by experienced burn boss Ben Jacobs, dictated all the conditions in which the burn could go forward and how it should be conducted.)
Finally, on our fourth attempt last Friday, the elements were on our side. Even though it hasn’t rained recently, the humidity levels were just high enough, and the lack of wind and lower temperatures made for a favorable burn day.
I cannot emphasize how important it was to me for this burn to happen. By the end, I was riding a rollercoaster of emotions, knowing what this work means. Reintroducing fire to the area after decades of fire exclusion has been long overdue, and it is finally happening. In the same week, State Parks also performed an 18-acre controlled burn in the North Grove of Calaveras Big Trees State Park, which neighbors the Beaver Creek property. These efforts are just the beginning as we and our partners at State Parks harness this traditional practice of indigenous tribes to restore heterogeneity on the landscape, mitigate the potential for high-severity catastrophic wildfire, establish the conditions to restore fire-adapted species (e.g. pines), and maintain biodiversity and native plant species.
In the same way that our taxes fund basic services like providing water and maintaining roads, treating the forest and conducting large-scale prescribed burns must become just as fundamental, not just for the health of our forests but also for the safety of our communities. We’ve still got a long way to go before we can implement this work on a broader scale in our coast redwood and giant sequoia forests—clearing administrative and policy hurdles, determining a more streamlined path moving forward, and getting the public to understand and be comfortable with fire as an essential element to stewarding our lands. This project is another step forward in promoting this work and making that vision a reality.