State Parks preventing fires at Donner Memorial | SierraSun.com

State Parks preventing fires at Donner Memorial

Scott Hess

With three different projects nearing completion, the California State Parks Department hopes to greatly reduce the risk of fire in Donner Memorial State Park’s campground area and Coldstream Canyon.

The two projects in Coldstream Canyon consist of thinning trees with two different methods. According to parks department forester Rich Adams, the parks department is thinning conifer trees around aspen trees near Horseshoe Bend for one of the projects.

Ken Anderson, a senior ecologist with the parks department said, “We are thinning live-standing, dead-standing and downed materials. This should lessen fire danger in the canyon and improve the health of the remaining trees.”

The contractor is using mainly hand crews and small equipment, Anderson said, and is turning some of the downed trees into firewood. The contractor sells the firewood, Anderson explained, which is how the contractor is paid for the job.

The other project in Coldstream is removing 5- to 25-foot pole-sized trees in dense thickets. Adams said those crews are using extricators with masticator heads. This equipment basically “grinds them down to the ground,” Anderson said.

Anderson said taking out these small trees – located around the ponds in the canyon – will lessen competition, making for a healthier forest, and protecting against bark beetle infestations.

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The trees are being thinned to approximately 20 feet apart and the remains are being scattered around the site.

The third project, according to Anderson, is removing dead trees from around the campgrounds. He said they have been working on this for years, and have removed “literally thousands of dead trees near the campground.”

“In the early 90s, we started to have massive tree mortality because of the bark beetle,” Adams said. He said the area around the east end of the lake had “tons of dead trees” and the parks department “effectively clear-cut the area because there were so many dead trees.”

According to Adams, the parks department has been removing 3- to 10-foot trees in the campground area, which has approximately 2,000 trees per acre. However, he said, “One acre can’t support 2,000 trees once they get big – you end up losing trees to bark beetles or other pests.”

He said the trees dying out is just one step in the natural process, but the next step would be forest fires – nature’s way of thinning. State parks is taking care of that process for Mother Nature, they say, hoping the next step will not take place.

In addition, Adams said, “We’re giving each individual tree more room for roots and tree crowns and more nutrients so they can withstand drought periods.”

“We don’t remove trees for resource extraction – to make money,” Anderson added. “We always leave the biggest and the best and try to remove the understory trees.”

For the future tree generations, Adams said, state parks is already developing a plan to keep the forest healthy. “Another project we have is to thin young trees coming in to prevent the same problem,” he said.

Anderson said all three projects should be finished and cleaned up before snow starts to fall.

For more information on Donner Memorial State Park and for thinning updates, visit http://parks.ca.gov.