Californians are all too aware that the next wildfire could happen at any time. And in many parts of the state, the threat of catastrophic wildfire persists year-round. Unfortunately, Yuba County isn’t any different in that respect.
To help reduce the risk for rural communities in Yuba County and the Yuba River watershed, Yuba Water Agency is investing in and supporting forest restoration efforts to reduce the amount of forest fuels that can lead to these powerful, catastrophic wildfires.
While the ultimate goal is to reduce the chances of devastating wildfire, these efforts also benefit water supply by reducing the number of trees in overly-dense areas, and protect water quality by lessening the probability of harmful sediment and post-wildfire debris entering New Bullards Bar Reservoir and local waterways.
As a registered professional forester, Yuba Water Agency General Manager Willie Whittlesey knows the extensive impacts that wildfire can have and why it is essential, as a water agency, to play such a big role in these ongoing efforts.
“We feel our contribution to the local and state water supply is to manage our entire watershed holistically,” Whittlesey said. “These efforts not only reduce the risk of devastating fire, but help make the forest more resilient to drought and climate change, while improving water quality, as well as supply.”
A recent $4.5 million grant from Cal Fire further benefits Yuba Water’s ongoing efforts to support healthier, more resilient forests in an area that has experienced numerous wildfires over the course of the past 22 years.
These funds will be used for the Yuba Foothills Healthy Forest Project, a collaborative effort that includes Yuba Water Agency, Cal Fire, the Plumas National Forest, Yuba Watershed Protection and Fire Safe Council, private landowners and local residents.
This grant will support significant biomass removal treatments on 5,375 acres in the Yuba County foothills, all of which are adjacent to communities with limited resources for fire risk reduction efforts, including Oregon House, Dobbins, Brownsville, Challenge and Rackerby. These treatments will improve forest health and reduce the risk of a catastrophic wildfire within a “Project Impact Zone” that spans more than 71,000 acres and includes an estimated 2,721 structures.
Another person helping lead the local effort is Steve Andrews, who is serving as the project coordinator responsible for planning, technical oversight, management of partners and consultants, and coordination of the work. As acting executive director of the Yuba Watershed Protection and Fire Safe Council, who also has 42 years of forestry experience, Andrews is excited to help implement landscape-scale forest treatments that will assist foothill residents while also improving the overall health of the forest.
“The specific project area and treatments have been developed cooperatively and strategically to provide the greatest benefit to the local communities and project partners,” Andrews said. “The project also compounds the benefits already realized from past projects and will work to link these activities to future projects within the watershed.”
Some of the key proposed activities include extensive forest fuels reduction using mastication and hand and machine piling; prescribed fire via pile-burning and under-burning; pest management through thinning and herbicide applications; reforestation; and biomass utilization.
Ultimately, the project will expand and improve forest management to enhance forest health and resilience on both natural and working lands.
This collaborative effort in its entirety was designed, planned and refined by fire agency professionals, forest fuels managers, water resource specialists and registered professional foresters.
Yuba Water Agency is the fiscal agent and administrator of the grant, and supported much of the planning effort, including project mapping, grant application preparation, as well as greenhouse gas emission calculations. The agency is also supporting the cost of the California Environmental Quality Act document preparation.
This project is part of Yuba Water Agency’s Watershed Resilience Program, which is supporting a variety of forest restoration efforts, including a project to restore 275,000 acres in the North Yuba River watershed in partnership with eight other organizations. To learn more about these efforts visit yubawater.org.
“Solving the forest health challenges of the Yuba River watershed requires extensive partnerships and collaboration to be successful,” Whittlesey said. “The challenges we face are too big for any one entity to tackle on their own, and working in silos doesn’t accomplish nearly enough, fast enough. We all have to be rowing in the same direction, if we’re going to get ahead of this.”