Volunteers Help Prepare a Vital Watershed in El Dorado County for Reintroduction of Fire

Contact(s): Jennifer Chapman, 530 957-9660

Activities -- LEFT: Volunteers Piling Woody Debris - CENTER: Generation Green Youth Crew Raking Fuel Away from Legacy Trees - RIGHT: Forest Service Firefighters Monitoring a Prescribed Fire

On July 19th-20th, and August 2nd-3rd, volunteers will be working to protect large majestic pines in the Caples Creek watershed as part of a long term restoration project that is reintroducing fire to the landscape. The Caples Creek Watershed near Kirkwood includes some of the last remaining old growth in the Eldorado National Forest and provides a primary water supply for 110,000 people in the El Dorado Irrigation District (EID) service area.

By removing ladder fuels and raking leaf litter and duff away from large, old trees, volunteers are helping to get the watershed ready for a series of prescribed burns that will be conducted by Forest Service fire managers. These volunteers, organized by Sierra Forest Legacy and the El Dorado Chapter of the California Native Plant Society, are working with staff from the Eldorado National Forest as part of the Forest Volunteer Program which had over 800 volunteers last year. Members from many other organizations, including the American River Conservancy, Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation, and the Alpine Watershed Group are participating in the Caples Volunteer Project. Others who are interested in volunteering are welcome and encouraged to join this effort. 

The Caples Ecological Restoration Project includes one of the largest prescribed fire projects in the Central Sierra with 8,800 acres of burning planned over the next 10 to 15 years. Prior to burning, extensive pre-treatment is needed to reduce the accumulation of fuel that has occurred in the watershed due to fire suppression over the last century.

Like most forests in the Sierra Nevada, the Caples Creek watershed evolved with frequent low-intensity fires, either ignited naturally by lightning or intentionally by Native Americans. The Forest Service estimates that the forest around Caples Creek experienced a fire every 11 to 16 years on average prior to the start of fire suppression in the early 1900s.

Based on fire history records, 47 fires have been suppressed in the Caples watershed since 1908. In the absence of regular fire, heavy fuels have built up in the watershed, increasing the likelihood that a future wildfire will burn at high intensity, threatening valuable wildlife habitat associated with old growth stands, as well as EID's water system. Caples also serves as an important place for backcountry recreation and was recommended as a wilderness area in the 1989 Land Management Plan for the Eldorado National Forest.

In response to recent destructive wildfire seasons, federal, state, and local leaders are calling for increasing the pace and scale of restoration in forests across the western U.S. Community-supported restoration efforts like this summer's Caples volunteer days can help critical restoration projects become a reality.

On the upcoming work days in July and August, volunteers will be raking up to several feet of organic material away from the bases of large conifers to help reduce the chance that these legacy trees will be damaged by fire. Without clearing this fuel load, excessive smoldering could severely damage the root systems or burn through the protective bark and damage the growth layer of these trees. No experience with forest management is necessary to volunteer on the Caples project.

To sign up for the upcoming Caples volunteer days, visit the volunteer page here.

For questions about the Caples volunteer days, contact the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) - El Dorado Chapter Volunteer Coordinator at 530-417-6885.

For more information about the Caples Ecological Restoration Project, visit the project pages on the Eldorado National Forest website.

Photo Credits:  LEFT - USFS photo by Jennifer Chapman; CENTER - USFS photo by Dana Walsh; RIGHT- photo courtesy of Craig Thomas


The U.S.D.A Forest Service is an equal opportunity employer. The mission of the Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation's forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.