U.S. Forest Service talks trees for Big Jack East project | SierraSun.com

U.S. Forest Service talks trees for Big Jack East project

Josh Staab
jstaab@sierrasun.com

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Rangers have set up an email list that will be a clearinghouse for information. For those interested in getting on the Big Jack East project email list, contact Karie Wiltshire at kwiltshire@fs.fed.us.

TRUCKEE, Calif. — Change can be a mercurial thing, especially when one tries to quantify it.

Such may have been partly why Truckee Ranger District officials are asking for community input on a proposal that would reduce the population of trees and other vegetation from areas as part of the Big Jack East project south of Truckee.

The treatment areas would be along and near Sawtooth Road — west of Martis Valley, and east of Highway 89 South, according the U.S. Forest Service.

At this point, crews are analyzing about 2,700 acres for hand, mastication, and mechanical treatment, Conway said. Only a portion of that acreage will actually receive treatment; Conway added it may be too early to know exactly where and what right now.

Current conditions still need to be analyzed before USFS crews can propose to move trees, bushes and other fire fuels to what is desired, based on the position on the landscape, said Scott Conway, a restoration ecologist and vegetation management officer with the USFS.

Once conditions are understood, prescriptions will be developed for each emphasis area, and the marking of trees to be proposed for removal will begin (marking is slated for the next field season).

At that point, officials will have a better idea of numbers, Conway said.

“I can say that, save for a few exceptions when it comes to hazard trees to homes, roads and infrastructure, the trees that will be proposed for removal will be generally small, and no trees greater than 30 inches diameter at breast height will be marked,” Conway said.

IMPACT ON HOMES?

While the project is in early stages, rangers met with the public during an open house Thursday, Oct. 8, to discuss it — and the importance of changing forest management strategies, Conway said.

Conway addressed a crowd of about 50 people, roughly 30 of whom were nearby property owners.

“It was the biggest outcome for a meeting we’ve ever had,” said Linda Ferguson, a Truckee Ranger District fuels specialist. “In the past, many of our projects were already under way by the time people found out about them.”

Proposed treatments could vary widely in terms of distance to those homes, the time certain operations occur near those homes, and type of operations that may occur, Conway said.

“For example, some homeowners may see a fire crew cutting small trees near their home for up to a week, while others may see or hear machinery for a few days,” he said. “None will be for an extended period of time, and we will have guidelines in place to minimize impacts to homes, like requiring daytime operations within a certain distance to homes, processing of material occurring at designated locations away from homes and trails, and routing much of the operations traffic around the backside of the project (Brockway Summit to the Fiberboard road).”

Although the goal is to minimize inconveniences to homeowners and those who use the area to recreate, Conway admitted there will be some.

“The idea is that those inconveniences would pale in comparison to the impacts of a larger disturbance like high-severity fire,” Conway said.

From fire encroachment to the feeling USFS officials are now in the business of removing trees instead of saving them, Conway said the evolution of forest management has just as much to do with reducing the number of high intensity fires as it does with changing public perception.

“Being a forester is part social practice and forest science,” he said. “And being a forester, you’re stuck right in the middle of it.”

Ultimately, Conway hopes the conversations will generate better understanding, and through that, public acceptance.

WHAT LIES AHEAD

The formal public input process with a scoping period will begin in late spring 2016, during which officials will distribute a proposed action and seek comments regarding potential effects.

“We will use input from the scoping period to finalize our proposed action and complete our environmental analysis document, which will be available for review in a formal comment period in fall or winter of 2016,” Conway said.

After a decision is made (anticipated in spring 2017), implementation will potentially begin in fall 2017. Although the bulk of the vegetation work is expected to take a year or so, follow-up work and prescribed fire may continue for several years after, Conway said.

“In order to deal with fuel reduction and thinning out the forest to make it more resilient, I think the microscope is on us a little bit more,” Conway said.

That microscope has turned to observations within USFS and other organizations that believe the way to nurture a more resilient forest may hinge on returning those forests to the state they were found before the introduction of 20th century urbanization.

However, therein lies the rub, Conway said.

While many forest management practices can evolve or be reversed altogether, populations of people will still grow. And in turn, so will their communities.

“When we are focused on managing hundreds of thousands of forest acres, and there is a very diverse population of people, we cannot just let fires do their thing, unfortunately,” Conway said. “We have to triage the types of work that we are supposed to do.”

In other words, don’t expect fire protection units to begin ignoring any fire, regardless of its intensity.

“Let’s understand what we’re doing on these landscapes,” Conway said. “Where are the homes; how do we deal with the vegetation around those areas?”