Where To Go Next

There is no January meeting, but Dr. Alexandra (Ali) Urza of the Rocky Mountain Research Station of the U.S. Forest Service will be making a presentation in February on the effectiveness of fuel breaks in stopping or controlling wildfire.

Where to go next:  One of the lessons that is fairly obvious from the overwhelming approval of Alpine County Measure D, which rejected any sort of biomass facility in eastern Alpine County, is that we have largely been preaching to the choir when it comes to the importance of restoring our forest to a healthy and resilient state.  The Alpine Biomass Collaborative (ABC) was always intended as a forum to unify partners to promote forest and watershed health, but instead we ended up with a deeply divided community with a lot of nasty things said during the campaign.

However, the basic problem of an overstocked forest at a time when we are experiencing a warmer and drier climate remains.  State and federal agencies, forest researchers, fire safe councils, resource conservation districts, forest collaboratives and most elected officials from forested counties in the Sierra Nevada are all in agreement that the forest needs to be thinned from in some cases as many as hundreds of trees per acre down to significantly less than 100 trees per acre.  And it needs to be done at a pace and scale that has never been attempted before.  Defensible space and home hardening can help protect homes from catastrophic wildfire, but do nothing to prevent wildfire from consuming our forest.

The California Wildfire and Forest Resilience Task Force (WFRTF) has been working on this problem for years, and their Science Advisory Panel has recently published its Sierra Nevada Profile, the first of four regional profiles.  The regional profiles “… summarize the social context and ecological condition related to community and ecosystem resilience to wildfire …”.  Eastern Alpine County is in the East subregion.  The profile is an easy read and is intended for the general population.  Three graphs from the profile illustrate the problem, and what stakeholders think should be done.  Stakeholders are individuals from CalFire, Forest Service, BLM, Sierra Nevada Conservancy, fire safe councils, resource conservation districts, forest collaboratives and other members of the public that have been participating in the WFRTF Sierra and Eastside Regional Coordination Group over the last few years.

The graph below (Fig. 5, p. 5) illustrates the increasing number of acres burned annually in the Sierra Nevada in the last few years.  Not shown is 2022, which due to a break in the weather and additions to CalFire’s suppression capabilities resulted in “only” 132,400 acres being burned.  The data was collected and summarized by the Sierra Nevada Conservancy.


In comparison, prior to European settlement approximately 1.1 million forested acres burned annually in California (Stephens et al, 2007), but it is estimated that only 1 to 5% burned at high severity.  Of the over 1.6 million acres that burned in the Sierra Nevada in 2021, approximately 575,000 acres burned at high severity, or about 35%.  When a forest burns at high severity it is unlikely that it will regenerate, but under our current and projected warmer and drier climate it is likely to convert to brush, perhaps similar to the Mesa.  So, what can and should we do to mitigate this increased risk to the forest and our community?

Below are the results of the stakeholder survey for the East Subregion (p 35).  In the first graph it clearly shows that the priority areas for investment are resilient and fire-safe communities followed closely by a safe, clean, and reliable water supply.  The second graph shows that the priority investments for healthy and resilient forests are reducing fuel loads followed closely by the related categories of reducing tree density, removing dead trees, prescribed fire, and increasing the forest management work force.2023-01-02_EastSolutions

If we want to save our forests, we need to restore them to a healthy and resilient condition.  One possible tool, a biomass facility of some sort, is currently off the table.  Are those in the community that worked hard to ban a biomass facility willing to work with us to come up with a better feasible way to reduce the excess fuel loading in our forest to restore it to a healthy and resilient condition and hence reduce our risk of catastrophic wildfire?  The ABC will be a willing partner.

New CalFire Fire Hazard Severity Zones and Community Wildfire Planning Process:  There will be a public meeting at 5:00 pm on January 11th at Turtle Rock Park to review and receive comment on the update to the CALFIRE Fire Hazard Severity Zone (FHSZ) map for Alpine County.  This is a county wide dataset so participation from Bear Valley and Kirkwood is encouraged.  Zoom connection information is:

Meeting ID: 873 3068 1166, Passcode: 304618
One tap mobile, +16694449171,,87330681166#,,,,*304618# US

The current Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) and Wildfire Hazard Mitigation Plan (WHMP) are available here.  For more information contact Alpine County Wildfire Project Coordinator Clint Celio at clint@cgcelio.com or 530-694-2140, or CALFIRE Assistant Chief Brian Newman at brian.newman@fire.ca.gov or call 530-573-2321.

Resource Advisory Committee (RAC):  The RAC is a committee convened by the Carson Ranger District to advise the Forest Service on how to spend Secure Rural Schools Title II funds to benefit federal lands.  There is currently about $200,000 available and the possibility of $15,000 to $30,000/year after that.  The RAC will be accepting project proposals until Feb. 1st, 2023.  Possible project ideas could include such things as trail and trailhead improvements, toilets, campgrounds and campground improvements, new or improved signage etc.  Fuels reduction projects are generally too expensive to accomplish with the available funding.

For more information or to submit a project idea contact Brian Peters, bwpeters1@gmail.com, or Matt Dickinson, Matthew.Dickinson@usda.gov, or 775-884-8154.   There are vacancies on the RAC so if you are interested contact Matt Dickinson as noted above.

Future Meetings:  Dr. Alexandra (Ali) Urza of the Rocky Mountain Research Station of the U.S. Forest Service will be making a presentation in February on the effectiveness of fuel breaks in stopping or controlling wildfire.  Please send suggestions for future speakers to dGriffith.9@gmail.com.  Presentations need to be on topics that relate to our mission statement.

Thanks to Alpine County Public Health for their support.
When stress arises, take a break and meditate.

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