Sagehen named experimental forest |

Sagehen named experimental forest

Sierra Sun file photoResearchers work on forest and fuel sampling in the Sagehen basin over the summer.

The Sagehen basin north of Truckee was designated a U.S. Forest Service experimental forest on Monday, the first such designation in more than 40 years.The 8,100-acre basin, which for nearly 55 years has housed a UC Berkeley research facility under a special permit with the Forest Service, will be operated with little change initially, said Jason Kirchner, spokesman for the Pacific Southwest Research Station of the Forest Service.The forest will now be operated by a partnership of UC Berkeley and Forest Service researchers.The effects of the recent designation are already being felt, said Truckee District Ranger Joanne Robique.I am already getting a sense that there is an increased interest just because of the designation, Robique said. My belief is it will highlight the research mission and by highlighting it we will see more participation by more researchers. Sagehen and the nearby Onion Creek experimental forest, on the North Fork of the American River, will work cooperatively on wildfire, snow and hydrology research, said Kirchner.Its almost like combining two small research stations to make one big one, he said.Sagehen, located about 10 miles north of Truckee, will also share its findings with the other 10 experimental forests in the state. Combined, the forests equal approximately 75,000 acres of forest land, a volume that allows the federal agency to conduct diverse experiments on a broad spectrum of environments.All of our experimental forests are tied together and that is a huge advantage that the Forest Service has, Kirchner said. No one has the type of acreage that the Forest Service has. Innovative wildfire research, dubbed strategically placed area treatments or (SPLATs), will continue in the basin, said Kirchner.Researchers are studying how strategic sections of thinning and prescribed burns can keep forest fires from burning out of control. The new model would be a more efficient and economical than widespread forest thinning across thousands of acres, according to researchers.The experimental forest designation continues a remarkable turnaround for the Sagehen research facility, which was on the verge of shuttering just more than 12 years ago because of a lack of funding.But after several years of rehabilitation, the research facility next to Sagehen Creek was inducted into UC Berkeleys Natural Reserve System.As a Berkeley research facility, and now as a Forest Service experimental forest, one of the areas greatest assets of Sagehen will still be its longevity. Along with the connected Central Sierra Snow Laboratory on Donner Summit, Sagehens age gives researchers important historical information on weather, hydrology and habitat that serve as measures of change in the Sierra. We have long-term data sets at Sagehen that we can build upon, Kirchner said.Robique, who makes decisions on national forest management around Truckee, said the forest research will lead to more informed decisions on federal forest land that is being pressured by population growth and increased demand for recreation.It will help folks like myself make decisions in the forest, Robique said.

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