Swanson Canyon Project a success

Pile burn on Swanson Canyon WUI ProjectModoc National Forest Fire and Fuels personnel will be entering the final phase of Swanson Canyon Fuels Reduction and Riparian Enhancement Project, a 485-acre fuels-reduction project five miles north of Alturas, California.  Forty acres remain to be treated before the project is completed this fall, if burning conditions allow.

“The juniper removal and fuels reduction project in Swanson Canyon has helped reduce the fears of residents living in Modoc Recreational Estates,” said Modoc Fire Safe Council Project Coordinator Stacey Hafen. “The juniper encroachment in Swanson Canyon increased the chance of wildfire burning through their property, and with limited water immediately available for fire suppression residents were worried.”

Swanson Canyon lies at the north end of Pencil Road. The close proximity of the canyon to homes in Modoc Recreational Estates qualified it for inclusion within a Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) zone. Through the years, the prolific encroachment of Western Juniper and accumulation of dead trees and brush created a hazardous fuels environment bordering private land.

A collaborative group made up of Forest Service, Cal Fire, Modoc County Fire Safe Council and Modoc Recreation Estate Homeowners Association recognized the potential fire danger to private land and worked together to remedy the condition. With grant funding from Sierra Nevada Conservancy’s “Healthy Forest” program, the planning documents were developed and the project began in 2013.

The fuels reduction project involves thinning juniper, burning slash piles, improving riparian vegetation, decreasing sediment and erosion in Swanson Creek and making firewood available to the public.

Over the years, the juniper seeded in from the upper rim rock to the lowlands of Swanson Canyon. Under these conditions, a continuous overstory of juniper fuel and an understory of decadent brush and woodcutter slash encroached into the area near private property. This increased risk of wildfire in the WUI and reduced wildlife habitat and riparian vegetation. Erosion and siltation in Swanson Canyon streams would eventually affect the Pit River and downstream reservoirs.

The area after the project is similar to 1925 and earlier historic condition when healthy fire was a part of the landscape.  Prescribed fire and restorative projects such as this can use natural fire processes to encourage beneficial effects to the landscape and protect homes.

Additionally, significant trash had accumulated in the area. As an additional benefit household garbage, appliances, furniture, electronics and tires were hauled out and the riparian area cleaned up.

The greatest success for Warner Mountain Fuels Specialist Kenny Heald was, “Protecting the community from wildfire and protecting the Swanson Canyon watershed.”

Modoc National Forest Fuels Manager Mark DePerro said there were several bonuses to the project, “Firewood permit holders were able to utilize about 70 percent of easy access firewood from the project. Range grass and sage-steppe ecology improved greatly from restoration work. Drainage in riparian areas improved. Clearing juniper and leaving pines allowed more shrubs to thrive, improving winter deer habitat. We have had good feedback from homeowners and the Fire Safe Council for the planning effort and resulting work. It’s a win-win situation.”

For more information please contact Modoc National Forest at modoc_info@fs.fed.us