A forest tour Tuesday, Aug. 10, ended in a hoot, and it wasn't from an owl.
It was a shout of surprised laughter from Quincy Library Group attorney Michael Jackson.
Along for the ride on the tour were Quincy Library Group members, a Sierra Forest Legacy representative, local landowners, Forest Service officers and other forest stakeholders.
"Just because we're fighting over the forest doesn't mean we have to fight over everything," Jackson said with a huge smile for Jim Brobeck of Sierra Forest Legacy and Butte County Fire Safe Council.
Brobeck, a member of the organization now in litigation with the Forest Service over the 2004 Sierra Nevada Framework, had just finished sharing his thoughts about the Genesee Wildland Urban Interface Fuels Reduction and Black Oak Enhancement Project.
He was impressed by the ecosystem management approach to the project, which was explained in each area of the tour by Ryan Tompkins, silviculturist for the Plumas National Forest Mount Hough Ranger District.
He doesn't like fiber production to the emphasis of fuel reduction jobs on the forest.
"It was really great to have Michael Jackson sharing Native American stories about historical management of the area," Brobeck said, and he envisions the project teaching people how to use fire in ways that won't hurt the land or the people.
"We need to find funding," he added. "The state is ripping off communities by not paying for the water they use from the area; we're butting heads fighting over money and fiber."
The Genesee project is a prime example of building healthy forests and communities Brobeck said. He thought there should have been even more fiber taken out of the hand-thinning area, though he knew there wasn't enough money for that.
Tompkins spoke up at that point and reminded everyone how difficult it was to work in the steep and rocky terrain, especially without machines to help.
In addition, there were already so many piles to burn that there wasn't really any room for more.
Although talk was supposed to be about the project area and whether or not treatments had met the purposes and goals, it was the topic of water that participants kept returning to, especially after Tompkins explained the changing ecology of the area.
The irrigation system at the Heart K Ranch, near Genesee, included a trough-and-flume system all the way from Taylor Lake, which was historically part of the ranch property, to the valley floor.
It had become so leaky over its lifetime of about 100 years that even after more than $200,000 was spent on repairs with Nature Conservancy funds, water never really made it all the way down as it had in the past.
"We tried for three years in a row," said Betsy Kraemer of the Feather River Land Trust and past manager of the Heart K Ranch.
She is also an adjacent property owner, where a previous fuel reduction project had been completed.
Tompkins said the water that leaked out of the ditches provided for vigorous growing conditions over the years before it dried up a decade ago.
The ensuing drought conditions stressed the trees and made them susceptible to beetle infestations and death.
By thinning the trees, not only were dead wood and ladder fuels removed, so was some of the competition for water.
Tompkins said the work should bring back the historic black oak and pine savannah to this south-facing hillside under Cat Rock.
The thinning should also help make trees more resilient to drought and the ever-present bark beetle, though some snags were retained to meet wildlife objectives, according to a post-tour report created by Colin Dillingham, team leader for the Herger Feinstein Quincy Library Group Monitoring Team.
A big part of the talk centered around the wildland urban interface areas surrounding the communities of Indian Valley and a fire safe council map that depicted almost all of the fuel reduction projects completed on public and private lands to help make those communities safer in case of a wildfire.
Each person on the tour came from a different interest area, whether he was a biologist or other Forest Service scientist or professional, Plumas Corporation watershed restoration expert, a representative from Congressman Tom McClintock's office and others.
"Personally, I think the most important part of the field trip is to get the different parties together, seeing the projects on the ground and talking about them," Dillingham said. "It is wonderful to hear the different perspectives from a wide range of people; each project has its own pros and cons, but all are overwhelmingly positive, as you could see on this field trip."
The Genesee project was funded through a combination of Plumas County Resource Advisory Committee and Herger-Feinstein Quincy Library Group funding.
The mechanical portion of the project, 30 acres, broke even from a Forest Service standpoint, and allowed for work by Holt Logging employees.
The hand-thinning portion of the project cost about $60,000.
Dillingham noted follow-up includes the need to complete surface fuel treatments with pile burning and under-burning.
Several participants also expressed need for an update to the CalFire map that depicts completed fuel treatments for a more comprehensive fuel break map.
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