Prescribe Burning On The Green Mountain

  • By Carol Underhill, Public Affairs Officer, Shasta-Trinity National Forest
A firefighter walks up a hill after burning the perimeter of a fire area. A helicopter flies over a forest with smoke rising from it.

In February fire managers on the Shasta Lake Ranger District of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest were able to take advantage of fair weather conditions and continue prescribed burn operations in the Green Mountain area. The Green Mountain project, which began in 2003, is located on the east side of Shasta Lake between the Pit and Squaw arms of Shasta Lake.

“When the project began, the area was so dense with brush, downed woody debris and closed stands of immature timber you could hardly see off the roads, let alone walk through the vegetation,” District Fire Management Officer Jeff Michels.

Today, Green Mountain is what project managers say is more open and “mosaic” as one can see several hundred feet off the existing roads. The thick brush and trees within the 9,070-acre project area are being thinned, creating a network of oak woodlands, timber stringers and brush. This makes it easier for wildlife such as deer, turkey and eagles to move through, find food and have desirable habitat, which will encourage elk to return to their historic range.

An additional benefit for this prescribed fire project is the reduction in hazardous fuels, which in turn creates a more resilient landscape. This means that during the warmest, driest time of the year, if an unplanned fire occurs in this area it will be less severe, making it safer for fire personnel to access the fire. 

Forest Service fire ecologists have analyzed fire history scars on trees and historically this area of California would have experienced a fire every 4 to 15 years. These frequent fires cleared the understory of dead and down materials and leaf and pine needle build up, aided in the soil nitrogen cycle and limited the amount of trees that were able to get established. Historic fires were typically less intense, smaller and patchier than what we see currently. These small low intensity fires were critical to maintaining habitat and food sources for the native plant and fauna as well as the native peoples that lived here.

Firefighting policy changes

Historically our forests were generally more open with fewer trees per acre.  Policy changes in the early 1900s mandated fire personnel to extinguish all vegetation fires by 10 a.m. the following day. This firefighting policy, known as the 10AM policy, was a reaction to large deadly fires in the early 1900s and was intended to protect our valuable timber resources. However, after 100 years of aggressive suppression tactics it is clear to fire managers that removing this key disturbance from our western forests have altered our landscape; our forests are denser, more prone to insect and disease and large catastrophic fires. Prescribed fire and managing naturally ignited fires is fundamental in restoring our overgrown landscapes. Projects like Green Mountain are designed to have multiple prescribed burns so that landscape can return to a more historic fire regime, with fire entries on a regular, more historic interval. 

The Shasta-Trinity National Forest implements prescribed fire on approximately 5,000 acres annually and is currently evaluating the use of fire to expand the capability to manage naturally ignited fires in remote areas of the forest for multiple ecological objectives and minimize exposure to firefighting personnel while allowing managers to focus on other priority fires that may occur closer to our communities.

This project has been implemented with the assistance of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, a nonprofit organization that focuses of the restoration and maintenance of habitat for our native elk.  Traditionally, this area was utilized by elk in the winter when food, at higher elevations, was scarce. Shasta-Trinity National Forest wildlife biologists monitor the project area to analyze the effects that prescribed fire has had on the populations of certain species within the project area.

Fire personnel from every district across the forest and the neighboring Whiskeytown National Recreation Area assisted in the project planning, preparation work, igniting and holding operations. Ignition operations were completed by hand lighting the perimeter, and utilizing a helicopter outfitted with the Plastic Sphere Dispenser (PSD) Machine. Part of the funding from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation went to the cost of contracting the helicopter for ignitions. By utilizing the helicopter, fire managers can burn more acres within an allotted timeframe while minimizing exposure to fire personnel on the ground. The helicopter also allows fire managers to apply fire in a manner that achieves the desired fire effects established by the prescription and can ensure that they take advantage of favorable winds to disperse smoke away from smoke sensitive areas.

About prescribed fire

The Shasta-Trinity National Forest has prescribed fire projects planned on every unit ranging from the burning of hand piles to larger landscape sized projects. Prescribed fire is a tool manager’s use to complete Forest Service objectives of reducing hazardous fuels to protect life and property, restore landscapes and maintain taxpayer investments like timber plantations. If you have any questions about the Shasta-Trinity National Forest prescribed fire program or activities contact your local Ranger District Office. Information about our ongoing prescribed burn actives can be found on and from our Shasta-Trinity National Forest Facebook and Twitter accounts. If you are interested in how to make your home more fire safe visit or inquire about a local fire safe council.