WatershedStories from the Smith River Alliance Newsletter
Protecting Rock Creek Ranch from Wildfire
This past Fall, the Smith River Alliance implemented the first phase of a fuel reduction project at Rock Creek Ranch. The main purpose of the project is to restore a healthy, fire resilient forest that will minimize the potential for both wildfire spread and severity. The work also seeks to benefit wildlife, forest health, and the community at-risk.
“The project removes “ladder fuels” and tree competition which reduces fire intensity and allows firefighters an increased opportunity to manage a wildfire incident” said Aaron Nauth, SRA’s new Stewardship Coordinator. “The restoration process seeks to mimic what a natural fire regime would historically accomplish before fire suppression altered our current forest conditions.”
This project at Rock Creek Ranch was funded by the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP), administered by the Natural Resource Conservation Services (NRCS). This program provides cost-share assistance to private landowners implementing forest improvement practices based on a “California Cooperative Forest Management Plan”. SRA completed a management plan in May 2021, applied to NRCS shortly thereafter, and was awarded funds in August, 2021.
The project is a 28-acre treatment area in some of the densest fire-prone woodlands on the property and is seen as the first of many phases. This area treated is located on a terrace across the South Fork Smith River, directly across from Rock Creek Ranch, only accessible by water craft.
SRA selected a private company through a competitive, best-value bid solicitation process. The job was unique for this crew, as they were ferried in a raft across South Fork River to do the thinning of brush and trees with chainsaws.
Before treatment, this area consisted of an extremely thick huckleberry understory tangled under an overstocked mixed oak and conifer woodland. The overstory is full of trees competing for limited resources and contributing to a fire hazard that could affect the entire community of South Fork, as well as Rock Creek Ranch due to its remote location and difficulty to access by fire crews.
The project, which consisted of thinning, pruning, and slash piling was completed in March of 2022. Pile burning is scheduled for November 2022 through March 2023 with an SRA-led volunteer and partner-supported workforce. SRA plans to use this cooperative model to facilitate fire training opportunities for various local resources. When the project is complete and the thinned fuels are burned, the forest conditions will open up and be representative of a historical forest structure seen over a hundred years ago.
All of the work reducing fuels is bordering federal lands managed by the USFS.
Overall, SRA seeks to be part of the greater community wildfire protection projects also happening on private and federal lands in Rock Creek, Big Flat and Gasquet Wildland Urban Interface communities.
SRA partnered with the California Conservation Crew to implement a 50-acre fuel break project in 2018 along South Fork Road between Rock Creek and Boulder Creek and believes that investing in education and action around community wildfire protection is essential to safeguard Rock Creek Ranch.