September 2022 Meeting Summary

The September meeting was attended by 21 people in person and two over Zoom.  A Zoom link was only provided to people that had a strong interest in Malcolm North’s presentation and that were too far away to attend in person.  The informal interaction that occurs before and after the formal meeting is important, and because of that Zoom links will not be available except in special circumstances   Since no actions were taken there will be no notes for this meeting, only this summary.

Dr. Malcolm North, a Research Ecologist with the Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Research Station gave a presentation on operational resilience in western US frequent-fire forests.  The complete recording of his presentation will be available here for approximately one month.

We learned that in order to achieve resilient forests:

  • Fuels reduction (a resistance approach) may not be sufficient for resilience to other stresses (i.e., drought, bark beetles)
  • Greater intensity of initial harvest is needed in far departed stands
  • Individual large tree growth should be favored over total stand growth
  • Financial incentives and more wood processing facilities are necessary

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photo by Mary Rawson

Participant updates:

  • McAffee (AWG) announced that volunteers are welcome at Markleeville Creek Day which is scheduled for Saturday Sept. 17th. Meet at the Library in Markleeville at 9:00 am.  After work is completed there will be a free lunch.  Details here.
  • Newman (CalFire) reported that fire activity was picking up in the state, but so far locally not so much. Fire activity is roughly equivalent to the 20-year average.
  • Lonergan (NFF) announced that there is an event with the Forest Service at REI in Reno on Sept. 16th promoting responsible recreation.
  • Francis (BLM) reported that the BLM had looked for seed cones for future restoration after the Tamarack Fire, but insects had got to them first and so cones this year are not a good source for seeds. It is a statewide issue.  Monti (USFS) concurred.  Francis also reported that Kim Dow, formerly Sierra Front Field Manager, is now the District Manager.
  • Rawson (ABC) reported that she had applied for, and the ABC has been awarded $2,825 from Alpine County Health and Human Services Public Health Dept. The funds are to cover expenses for the next year and the purchase of a high-resolution projector.
  • Griffith (ABC) announced that the first meeting of the Resource Advisory Committee (RAC) would be in October. The RAC would be able to make recommendations to the Forest Service on what projects to fund with the approximately $150,000 available.

A special thanks to Alpine County Health and Human Services Public Health Dept. for the grant mentioned above by Rawson.  In the future there will be some public interest messaging from the Health Dept.  Those that attended the meeting in person saw how much of a difference the new projector makes.

Other Items of Interest:  The Stronger California Coalition, which includes organizations such as the California State Assoc. of Counties and the California Fire Safe Council among others has a lot of good information for those that live in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) and are at risk of catastrophic wildfire.  To learn more, go here.

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has released a major update to its California Smoke Spotter mobile app to help users protect themselves from smoke during wildfire season. New features of the app include wildfire information and alerts, a 24-hour wildfire smoke forecast, and Air Quality Index (AQI) data from PurpleAir sensors to provide users with real-time smoke conditions (in addition to AQI data from permanent and temporary air monitors).  Details available here.

Future Meetings:  There will be no October meeting and instead people are encouraged to attend Candidates’ Night and a following educational session on how biomass facilities help reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire, their place in achieving California’s climate and forest health goals, and their air quality impacts.   Suggestions for future topics that are consistent with our mission statement are welcome.  Please send suggestions for future speakers to dGriffith.9@gmail.com.

Resilient Forests, What Are They, Why Do We Need Them, and How Will We Get There.

Our next meeting will be at 6:00 pm on Tuesday September 6th at Turtle Rock Park.  Dr. Malcolm North of the Pacific Southwest Research Station of the U.S. Forest Service will be making a presentation on resilient forests, what they are under current and an anticipated warmer and drier future climate, why it is important, and what needs to be done so that our forests are resilient now and in the future.  This should be of particular interest to those that question the need to do something with the excess biomass in our forest.

Biography:  Malcolm North is a Research Forest Ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station, and an Affiliate Professor of Forest Ecology, Department of Plant Sciences at the University of California, Davis.  He received his Master of Forest Science at Yale University and his PhD in Forest Ecology from the University of Washington with Dr. Jerry Franklin.  Malcolm has worked on understanding many aspects of the ecology of Sierra Nevada forests, including the effects of fire suppression, carbon dynamics, ecosystem resilience and management constraints on increasing pace and scale and the broader use of fire.  He is also the lead author of the Forest Service publication GTR 220, an ecosystem management strategy for Sierran mixed-conifer forests.  A full list of his publications is available here.

Abstract:  With the increasing frequency and severity of altered disturbance regimes in dry, western U.S. forests, treatments promoting resilience have become a management objective but have been difficult to define or operationalize.  Many reconstruction studies of these forests when they had active fire regimes have documented very low tree densities before the onset of fire suppression.  Building on ecological theory and recent studies, I suggest that this historic forest structure promoted resilience by minimizing competition which in turn supported vigorous tree growth.  I assessed these historic conditions for management practices, by calculating a widely-used measure of competition, relative stand density index (SDI), for two extensive historical datasets and compared those to contemporary forest conditions.  Relative SDI for historical forests was 23-28% of maximum, in the ranges considered ‘free of’ (<25%) to ‘low’ competition (25-34%).  In contrast, most (82-95%) contemporary stands were in the range of ‘full competition’ (35-59%) or ‘imminent mortality’ (>60%).  These results suggest current fuel treatments may not be sufficient to restore resilience.  In particular there is a significant need to reduce tree density and restore forests to a low or no competition structure.  Current management practices often use competition to guide development of desired forest conditions.  Creating stands largely free of competition would require a fundamental rethinking of how frequent-fire forests should be managed for resilience.

Future Meetings:  Our October meeting may be cancelled if “Candidates’ Night” includes an educational session on Measure D.  Otherwise, it will be presentations on the role of biomass facilities in forest health, resilience, and air quality.   Please send suggestions for future speakers to dGriffith.9@gmail.com.  Presentations need to be on topics that relate to our mission statement.

August Meeting Summary

The August meeting was attended by 18 people in person and one over Zoom.  Since no actions were taken there will be no notes for this meeting, only this summary.

Susie Kocher, a Forestry Advisor with the University of California Cooperative Extension gave a presentation on prescribed fire, and what the options are for private landowners who might want to employ this technique.  The full PowerPoint presentation will be available here for approximately one month.

She also suggested three workshops that should be of interest to property owners who wish to maintain or restore their forests.  There are workshops on Forest Stewardship, Post- Fire Forest Resilience, and Prescribed Fire Planning on Aug. 30th (more information available from sdkocher@ucanr.edu).  The workshops are hosted by University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources.

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photo by Mary Rawson

Participant updates:  Unfortunately, the quality of the audio recording is not good and consequently not all the updates have been completely captured.  Apologies to those who whose reports are not audible.

  • Monti (USFS) shared that the Alpine Watershed Group had started monitoring of the West Carson Project. Once the West Carson Project is completed crews will move to the similar project at Monitor Pass.  She also confirmed that work repairing Sawmill Road should be completed that day and that the Forest Service would be removing the downed hazard trees along Pleasant Valley Road.  
  • Aralia updated the meeting on activities of the Tahoe Conservancy (TC) regarding updating pre-attack and Community Wildfire Protection Plans for the Tahoe Basin. The TC is also finalizing development of a decision support tool to optimize and prioritize projects in the Tahoe Basin.  She also shared that the Dept. of Conservation now has LIDAR data that was flown in 2022 for the entire Sierra Nevada. 
  • The Hellmans reported that they had completed mastication over part of their ranch and highly recommend the contractor that they used. Initially they had tried to get assistance from the National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), but found the process too slow so they went ahead on their own.  Their WoollyStar Music Festival was highly successful and they are planning on organizing it again next year. 
  • McAffee (AWG) announced that their annual volunteer Creek Day would be on Sept. 17th. Details will be available here.  The AWG is also open to requests for volunteers for other projects.
  • Kaffer announced that the Friends of Hope Valley were planning their Aspen Festival for the 2nd weekend in October at Picketts Junction.
  • Rawson (Markleeville Enhancement Club) announced that their stargazing event with the Reno Astronomy Club would be at the Alpine County airport beginning at 6 pm on August 27th.
  • Elliot (BLM) reported that they were working with CalFire on some of their property along Hot Springs Road. They will be completing fuels reduction projects this fall on some of their parcels near Foothill Rd. along the border between California and Nevada. 
  • Thornburg reported that the emergency salvage on their property has been largely completed, although there are still a few loads to be hauled away.
  • Griffith reported that the Regional Forest and Fire Capacity Program (RFFCP) is well funded and that hopefully the County will be able to take advantage of this program to build more capacity to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire. CalFire has released its Fuels Reduction Project Viewer which shows all projects that CalFire has funded beginning in Fiscal Year 2020-21.  Federally there have been some minor adjustments to NEPA procedures that may speed up some project approvals.  The Eastern Sierra Sustainable Recreation Project (ESSRP) has put out a Request for Proposals for a consultant to plan the Towns to Trails project, which ultimately result in a system of connected trails from north of Lake Tahoe to Independence in Inyo County.  Regarding Measure D on the November ballot, which would prohibit any biomass facility in eastern Alpine County, the Board of Supervisors agreed to let the Committee Against Measure D prepare the ballot arguments against the initiative.  He also reported that the idea of volunteers gathering cones to provide seed for reforestation efforts was an idea that wouldn’t fly due to the amount of expertise required.  Kocher mentioned that there was a course being designed for those really interested.

Future Meetings:  In September Dr. Malcolm North of the Pacific Southwest Research Center on what a resilient forest is under current and an anticipated warmer and drier future climate, why it is important, and what needs to be done so that our forests are resilient now and in the future.   Suggestions for future topics that are consistent with our mission statement are welcome.  Please send suggestions for future speakers to dGriffith.9@gmail.com.

Prescribed Fire for Landowners

Our next meeting will be at 6:00 pm on Tuesday August 2nd at Turtle Rock Park.  Susie Kocher, a Forestry Advisor with the University of California Cooperative Extension, will be presenting the history of prescribed fires on private lands, the practical aspects of implementing burns on private lands, and the role of prescribed burn associations in helping landowners learn how to burn their own property.  She will also be giving a workshop on the same subject.  Information on the workshop is available here.

Biography:  Susie Kocher is an extension forester for the University of California Cooperative Extension in the Central Sierra.  She is directing two current initiatives – hosting forest stewardship education workshops for private forest landowners across the state and conducting prescribed fire education in the Central Sierra.  She is starting a new post-fire outreach and education program with funding from the US Forest Service.  She is a member of the Small Landowner Assistance work group of the Governor’s Wildfire and Forest Resilience Task Force and a registered professional forester.

Possible Forest Service Change:  Eastern Alpine County has been in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest (HT), and before that the Toiyabe National Forest forever.  The HT is part of the Forest Service’s Region 4, while their Region 5 covers almost all Forest Service lands in California. 

In the past this hasn’t mattered much, but in the last few years Region 5 has been working closely with California with regard to improving forest health and resilience.  Region 5 has been aggressively pursuing funding from California for fuels reduction, facility upgrades, and sustainable recreation projects among other things.  National Forests in California such as the Inyo, Eldorado, Stanislaus, and Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit work much more closely with the local communities than we have seen from the HT.  In fairness to the HT, things have improved somewhat under the current District Ranger.

The Regional Foresters from Regions 4 and 5 have agreed to consider a boundary adjustment that would move eastern Alpine County from Region 4 to Region 5, probably as part of the Eldorado National Forest.  It is up to us as a community to decide whether we want to pursue this or not.  The Forest Service has asked that we make up our minds by the early fall.

Ban Biomass Initiative:  A committee, separate from the Alpine Biomass Collaborative, has been formed to oppose the initiative.  More information will be shared as it comes available.

Miscellaneous:  The Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California has finalized an agreement with Tahoe Forest Products to operate a sawmill at the Tribe’s Lower Clear Creek property near Carson City.  This will be a huge help in improving the economics of forest thinning projects in the region.  More information is available here.  Congratulations to the Tribe and Tahoe Forest Products for putting this together.

Future Meetings:  Our September meeting will feature Dr. Malcolm North of the Pacific Southwest Research Center on what a resilient forest is under current and an anticipated warmer and drier future climate, why it is important, and what needs to be done so that our forests are resilient now and in the future.  Those that are wondering why the new sawmill near Carson City is so important, or why a potential biomass facility in Alpine County is needed will get some of their doubts addressed.  Please send suggestions for future speakers to dGriffith.9@gmail.com.  Presentations need to be on topics that relate to our mission statement.

July Meeting Summary

The July meeting was attended by 25 people in person.  There was no Zoom option.  Since no actions were taken there will be no notes for this meeting, only this summary.

Susie Kocher, a Forestry Advisor with the University of California Cooperative Extension presented the results of her research on what worked and what didn’t with respect to restoration after the 2007 Angora Fire.

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photo by Mary Rawson

Lessons learned from the 2007 Angora Fire should be applicable to the needed restoration after the Tamarack Fire.  Below is the summary table of restoration methods used along with their advantages and disadvantages.  Failure to implement restoration after a wildfire such as the Tamarack Fire almost certainly will eventually result in a brush field, especially in the warmer and drier climate we are currently experiencing.  Examples include the unrestored portions of the 1987 Acorn Fire, the 1996 Autumn Hills Fire above Foothill Rd. in Douglas County, and even the recent 2015 Washington Fire.

Post fire forest management Angora fire case study

The full PowerPoint presentation will be available here for approximately one month.

Participant updates:  Unfortunately, the quality of the audio recording is not good and consequently not all the updates have been completely captured.  Apologies to those who whose reports are not audible.

Monti (USFS) reported that crews were working on the West Carson Project.  McAfee (AWG reported that their meeting on Tuesday, July 12th at 5:30 pm will be a tour of the West Carson Project.  Details available here.  Longeran (NFF) gave an update on the National Forest Foundation activities helping agencies secure and administer project funding.  Francis (BLM) reported that the BLM had hired two people through American Forests to look for cone trees that could provide seed for a reforestation effort.  They are looking for a grouping of ten trees in an area that have a heavy cone drop, called a cone flush.  She appealed for any information on such a grouping of ten trees.  She is also looking for certified tree climbers to retrieve the cones and is hoping to recruit them at an arborist convention in Reno in September.  Monti stated that the Forest Service has the same need.  Franklin reported that she has some pinyon pine currently coning on or near her property.  Harvey announced that his project with NRCS to reduce the fuel on his property was essentially complete.  He commented that he found the NRCS most helpful and easy to work with as a private landowner.  Aralia reported that the Tahoe Conservancy was supporting the creation of a forestry program at the Lake Tahoe Community College and that might help improve the number of qualified people to work in forestry.  Jones (WEPD) reported that the Washoe Environmental Protection Dept. of the Washoe Tribe is starting up their native plant nursery and will be including pinyon pine and black oak.  She also offered the use of their native plant guide and expert on invasive plants to those that need help identifying invasive species.  She reported that the lease agreement for the sawmill in lower Clear Creek immediately south of Carson City was signed.  There is still some environmental review before final approval and she expects some strong opposition.  Kocher stated that her agency has hired a woody biomass expert to work with the communities.  The new person will start in September.  Griffith reported that there was an initiative on the November ballot that would ban all biomass facilities in eastern Alpine County and that there is a committee being formed to oppose it.  He invited anyone who was interested in serving on the committee to contact him.  In response to a question about his earlier statement that there might be significantly more funding available for restoration after the Tamarack Fire, he explained that he did not have details, but speculated that it was about the $600 million that VP Harris promised California in January and that he would not know more until after his meeting with the authorities.  (Unfortunately, it has turned out that the $600 million was already allocated and the roughly $3 million the Forest Service and County received was all that was allocated to the Tamarack Fire recovery.)

Future Meetings:  Our August 2nd meeting will feature Susie Kocher of the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources Department.  This time she will be giving her presentation on prescribed fire, especially on private land.  In September we are hoping to have a presentation on what a resilient forest is and why it is important to get our forests into a resilient state in a warmer and drier climate.  Please send suggestions for future speakers to dGriffith.9@gmail.com.  Presentations need to be on topics that relate to our mission statement.