Forest Health at FRC
Feather River College is working hard to complete forest restoration and fuels reduction projects on our campus. Thinning and burning these fires-adapted forest ecosystems is a unique opportunity for hands-on learning for students in our Environmental Studies program and will make our campus forests more resilient.
Current Campus Projects
A main objective of our Sierra Nevada Conservancy Grant is to thin the forest on our campus by removing small trees and ladder fuels that can connect surface fires to the forest canopy, while to improving forest health. We have a goal to thin 94 acres of our campus by 2025. Student workers and classes have worked alongside our campus forest manager to complete this forest phase of our thinning project, which focuses on the area around the dorms. This area is priority number one as we seek to make our campus a safe as possible for our students.
As part of our mission to restore the health and structure of the forest, we are returning fire to the landscape. In April 2022, Feather River College, supported by many partners, was able to revive our “prescribed” burning program. We are proud to have completed these burns that have significantly reduced forest fuel loads and will leave our campus forest more resilient. These intentional, controlled “prescribed” fires, are meant to reduce surface and ground fuels on the forest floor, while also removing some of the small trees growing in the understory. This work is helping us restore the health or our forests and maintain safe, wildfire buffers around our campus.
Pile burning is an important way that we can clear debris created from our campus thinning projects, while returning nutrients to the soil. Student workers and classes have worked alongside our campus forest manager to learn safe pile burning techniques. These tools will be critical to our future forest management workforce as our region strives to reduce fuels in the areas around our communities.
Firelines are areas on the ground that are scraped clean of leaves, sticks and other fuel that can burn. Trails for walking, biking, and horseback riding make excellent firelines than can stop small-scale prescribed fires and confine them into predetermined units. Building strategic trails that will be used as firelines for future prescribed fires, or even for potential wildfire suppression, is also a great way to open up our campus forest to recreation. Our campus Outdoor Recreation Leadership program has worked to build these fireline trails to help all students and community members enjoy our forest.
Before the early 1900s, a combination of intentional cultural burns set by various indigenous groups, including the Mountain Maidu/Yamani Maidu locally, to achieve specific forest management objectives and natural lightening fires created a forest that was much more open than that which we see around us today. Tree ring records show that Sierra Mixed Conifer forests, such as the forests we have on our campus today, burned on average every 8-15 years until about 1910. These frequent fires, not only opened up the forest by naturally thinning small trees, but they significantly reduced surface and ground fuel loading, so that when fires did occur, they were much more likely to remain confined and on the forest floor, where they wouldn’t burn forest canopies or kill mature trees.
Starting in the early 1900s a large effort was made to suppress wildfires and put them all out as quickly as possible and cultural burning was made illegal. This misguided effort to “protect” the forest and its resources has left us with a legacy of dense forests filled with high ladder and surface fuels, which are particularly susceptible to burning up in high-severity fires events. The forest managers of today are working hard combat these past mistakes by learning about time-tested, sustainable ecological management techniques practiced by indigenous communities, who have lived alongside these forests for millennia, and by thinning and burning forests in an effort to restore these fire-adapted ecosystems.
Current management operations at FRC are being funded in part by the Sierra Nevada Conservancy. Below is a description of the Watershed Improvement Projects scope and deliverables. The project will be completed by January 1, 2025.
Feather River College’s Watershed Improvement Project (FRC-WIP) is located on the college campus, one mile from Quincy, in Plumas County and is surrounded by forested land administered by the Plumas National Forest and private landowners. The 94-acre project improves watershed health and improves forest resilience under climate change in the wildland-urban interface (WUI) by reducing hazardous fuels and reintroducing prescribed fire as a primary long-term forest management tool.
The project reduces overstocked and dangerous fuel loads that surround roads and buildings and includes the following treatments: 1) hand-thin trees and brush, limb trees, buck poles, and clear slash on at least 94 acres, 2) chip slash on at least 20 acres of culturally sensitive and easily accessible lands, 3) transport chips to the biomass burner at the Plumas Health & Human Service Center, 4) hand-pile and burn slash on at least 94 acres, 5) build at least 5,000 feet of fire line and trails, 6) under burn at least 20 acres, and 7) complete a post-under-burn cultural survey in a known Mountain Maidu village site. Fuels reduction work on campus contributes to landscape-level restoration efforts throughout the Upper Feather River Watershed, increases workforce development by engaging FRC students in all aspects of the project, and improves public understanding of the need to improve forest health and restore fire as the college will serve as a demonstration site for watershed restoration and prescribed fire best management practices. The FRC-WIP is consistent with the Feather River College Forest & Fire Management Plan, and the local Community Wildfire Protection Plan.
Feather River College is in the upper Feather River watershed, the headwaters of the State Water Project. The State Water Project and Feather River provide drinking water to 68 percent of Californians and irrigates 750,000 acres of farmland. Up to one half of the freshwater flowing into the Delta begins as snow and rain in these watersheds.
These projects are supported by a grant from the Sierra Nevada Conservancy and have been made possible by our many community partners. FRC is proud to have built regional partnerships with federal, state, and local agencies, as well as businesses and non-profits to provide cutting-edge training to students and community members in the space of applied fire and ecosystem management.
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