The Six Rivers National Forest, established in 1947, and named for the Smith, Klamath, Trinity, Mad, Eel, and Van Duzen rivers, managing more than 1,500 miles of these rivers and their tributaries, comprising nine percent of California’s total freshwater runoff. These rivers provide salmon and steelhead access to over 400 miles of their traditional spawning grounds.
Ecological restoration, first and foremost, means managing forest lands to protect our water resources. High-quality water from forests is fundamental to these fisheries, our prosperity and our stewardship responsibility.
The need for ecological restoration has become increasingly important because of the myriad of threats to the forest’s unique “Rivers to Ridges” landscapes. They include catastrophic wildfire, climate change impacts, drought, insect and disease, and increasing pressures of human population.
That’s why the time is right to pick up the pace and scale of our ecological restoration work to continue providing ecosystem services and benefits which are being jeopardized by these large scale threats.
Good work in the 70s and 80s yielded an aggressive in-stream and riparian restoration program designed to help the rivers recover after the 1955 and 1964 floods. Since 1990, the Forest, in partnership with California Department of Fish and Game, Karuk and Yurok Tribes, and California Parks and Recreation, focused on fixing problem roads. More than 380 miles of forest roads were decommissioned, 450 culverts with potential problems corrected, and 50 replaced with larger pipes.
However, over the past five years, the forest experienced long duration wild fire events because of excessive fuels, climate change, and increased lightning activity. Although all fires are managed under a suppression strategy, one can see resource benefit across the vast majority of the quarter-million acres burned during this time.
The forest responded with a fuels program that continues to give priority attention to strategically reduce hazardous fuels near communities. Working closely with local and County Fire Safe Councils and Resource Advisory Committees, multiple examples of community protection projects and strategically placed fuels breaks have been accomplished in recent years. The use of fire through prescribed burning will be an important tool of this forest strategy.
The forest is geographically situated where the flora of Northwest California meets that of the humid forests of the Pacific Northwest and the temperate grasslands and oak woodland of the Coast Range. This setting supports a wide range of plant niches that offers home to species that are considered not only endemic (known only to California) but are only known to the forest.
There is a need to restore some of these unique meadow and oak-woodland ecosystems that have been lost to conifer encroachment because of fire suppression. Species that benefit include the spotted owl, marbled murrelet, acorn woodpecker, western gray squirrel, black bear, black-tailed deer, elk, cougar, marten, fisher, and wild turkey, in addition to supporting the Yurok Tribe’s efforts to reintroduce condor to the north coast.
Much of the initial treatments will emphasize hardwood restoration and conifer plantations on more than 150,000 acres in the next decade. This will help restore and sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of these upstream forest and meadow environments, while creating needed jobs. This effort must not abandon, however, our current support of Tribes, local communities and Fire Safe Councils working across boundaries to protect and develop their capacity.
Ecological restoration is critical in providing quality recreation services. Our recreation niche is “Rivers to Ridges for Fun and Renewal” for good reason. Travelers and recreationists are beginning to discover one of California’s best kept majestic secrets, which include the Smith River National Recreation Area, one of only two congressionally-designated areas in California.
The forest contains more than 35 percent of California’s Wild and Scenic Rivers on federal lands. The 1,500 miles of waterways offers fantastic whitewater and river recreation opportunities.
The forest is working on a Framework for Sustainable Recreation for the community it serves that complements our need for ecological restoration. Neither can do without the other.
To be successful, emphasis will be placed on expanding and developing partnerships to increase our organizational capacity to achieve our restoration goals. Our partnership coordinator will engage partners and volunteers and closely coordinate with other agencies, county boards, localcommunities, stakeholders, and Tribes.
Only an environmental restoration program of unprecedented scale can change the current trend. It will only happen if collaboration is a meaningful process where people with diverse interests share their knowledge to improve outcomes that enhance future decisions for the good of the Forest.