In this last three months, Sierra Nevada Regional Forest and Fire Capacity Program leadership organizations have demonstrated the power of capacity funding to advance organizational resilience, community-based disaster response, and project-pipeline integrity. Nowhere is this more evident than the Feather River Resource Conservation District (Feather River RCD).
This was a difficult last quarter for the Feather River RCD whose district was at the epicenter of the Dixie Fire. Challenges included prolonged mandatory evacuations, burned-over project areas, and even the loss of staff due to the destruction of their home. As the fire began its unprecedented spread, the Feather River RCD shut down normal operations and moved into emergency-response mode. Staff was able to utilize previous training to join on-call fire crews with the Plumas National Forest and assist with suppression; including cutting hand lines, structure preparation, initial attack, and mop-up. The Feather River RCD was also able to provide Basic 32 training and arduous pack tests to enable community members to join Forest Service firefighting hand crews. Regional Forest and Fire Capacity Program (RFFCP) funds did not directly contribute to these activities, but previously developed partnerships and community engagement contributed to the success of the training and fire-education events.
In September, the Feather River RCD was able to resume its role as the convener of planning and collaborative activities. These involved assessing damage to planned and in-progress projects and meeting with partners to discuss future options for an altered landscape. Outcomes of these efforts include an updated set of priority projects developed with the Plumas National Forest that is being used for funding applications. The Feather River RCD has also been reaching out to non-industrial private forest owners to develop a wildfire-recovery initiative. Proposed activities include removing hazardous fuels including dead standing trees, thinning high-density stands, site preparation, and reforestation. The proposed project involves CAL FIRE, USDA, Plumas County Office of Emergency Services, and the University of California.
Things have changed for the Feather River RCD. Many of its planned projects have been burned, and new strategies for forest restoration must be developed. Many unburnt areas that are now considered priorities on a landscape level are not within the scope of existing planned and permitted projects. At the same time, Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management capacity for planning efforts is limited due to the amount of resources dedicated to recovery. Future work will require additional resources for scoping, project design, and CEQA/NEPA compliance before implementation programs can begin. Although the task is large, RFFCP investment in Feather River watershed area has given the Feather River RCD the experience, relationships, and resources to move forward and meet the challenges of recovery.
Feather River Resource Conservation District is a Sierra Nevada Conservancy Regional Forest and Fire Capacity Program (RFFCP) grantee. Through the Sierra Nevada Watershed Improvement Program (WIP), SNC allocates RFFCP funding to organizations and agencies in the SNC Region, encouraging them to build new partnerships, test new strategies, and fill capacity gaps. Sharing these strategies will help all Regional stakeholders to be more effective in their forest restoration and fire resilience work.