Fire salvage

Fire salvage and stewardship projects speed ecological restoration

During the 2017 fire season, approximately 93,000 acres burned on Modoc National Forest. Forest Service personnel started looking for ways to address the ecologic impacts and capture some of the timber value to help fund ecological restoration activities and support rural communities before the fires were out.

“Treatments focus on safety for road travel and forest recreation, as well as rehabilitation of soils and wildlife habitat,” said Modoc National Forest Vegetation Program Manager Bill Moore. “Well-designed harvest of burned areas helps pay for some of this rehabilitation and supports local communities.”

Shows loader working to stack logs on log deckDesigned and planned by Modoc National Forest personnel, the Parker 2 Fire Salvage Project is now producing saw logs from the 2017 Parker 2 Fire in the Southern Warner Mountains. It burned almost 8,000 acres at varying intensity.

The Warner Mountain Ranger District used the categorical exclusion for fire salvage to plan a forest-health project to help some of the more impacted areas to recover and to address public safety issues created by dead-standing trees along forest roads. This project will provide 3.1 million board feet to help support rural communities and treat 218 acres to increase forest safety, health and resilience.

Limitations arise during the National Environmental Policy Act planning process where the Forest Service and partners must move quickly before timber value is lost to damage from fungus and wood-boring insects. This loss of value can happen within one year of the fire.

Efforts to plan for salvage sales in these short timelines can deter focus from planning for other projects meant to prevent or mitigate the impacts of catastrophic wildfires in the future. With this in mind, the forest recently worked with the Pit Resource Conservation District to complete planning for the Cove Fire Salvage and Forest Health Project that will treat 1,380 acres and provide 6.3 million board feet of timber.

Shows many dead trees resulting from the 2017 Cove Fire “Fire Salvage may not be the easiest place to start a stewardship partnership, but the high level of community support for fire salvage projects offered a great opportunity to realize the benefits from this project’s objectives,” said Pit Resource Conservation District Watershed Coordinator and Project Manager Todd Sloat.

“Projects like this that leverage partner funding and capacity to accomplish projects the Forest Service alone does not have the funding or staff to accomplish can help create a sense of ownership,” Sloat explained about how partner involvement can go beyond just a single project.

This is a team approach to ecological restoration. Engaging partners makes for stronger projects, helps create alignment and increases buy in for future projects. Stewardship agreements allow for more flexibility in how sales can be planned, sold and implemented. The receipts can be retained to fund future projects as well.

Shows a heavily impacted riparian area from the 2017 Cove Fire“If we really want to increase pace and scale of ecological restoration, we have to increase planning and implementation resources first,” Sloat added. “Increased appropriated funds would be welcome, but in the meantime leveraging partner support can help increase the area that can be treated to enhance resiliency and resistance to wildfires, insects and diseases.”

This project began with building trust between the Pit Resource Conservation District board of directors and the Forest Service, specifically Westside District Ranger Chris Christofferson, who helped them be more comfortable with the risk they were taking in going down the path of this stewardship process.

“The Forest Service added the Rice Timber Sale to the stewardship agreement as an innovative way to limit risk to partners and increase the level of commitment from the Forest Service in this new partnership,” said Christofferson. “Other local organizations such as the Pit Rod and Gun Club also contributed funds.”

“This is a level of commitment we had not seen before,” said Sloat. “The board was all in at that point and wanted to add to the partnership by bringing in other local entities.” Their strategy was to find additional organizations to contribute to the process with the belief that a broader, local partnership would build a stronger ‘team’ in the long run and attract more funding to conduct more forest health work in the future.

The project team used local expertise. An estimated 80 percent of the work was done by locals. “We learned a ton through this process,” Sloat concluded. “Stewardship agreements are not widely used, and there is still a considerable amount of uncertainty about how they can be of benefit. In addition, salvage projects are different than everything else as they have to be the top priority. Partners rallied around the tight time schedule necessary to capture timber value before it was lost. We are confident we can improve on this tight time schedule in the future.”

Stewardship agreements are a good example of partnerships in action on public lands, but receipts from timber sales are used in many other ways to support forest health. Learn more at https://www.fs.fed.us/restoration/Stewardship_Contracting/results/assessment/index.shtml.