As a registered professional forester, Yuba Water Agency General Manager Willie Whittlesey knows the extensive impacts that wildfire can have and why it is essential, as a water agency, to play such a big role in these ongoing efforts.
“We feel our contribution to the local and state water supply is to manage our entire watershed holistically,” Whittlesey said. “These efforts not only reduce the risk of devastating fire, but help make the forest more resilient to drought and climate change, while improving water quality, as well as supply.”
Photo: The tip of the North Yuba River watershed near the Sierra Buttes.
A recent $4.5 million grant from Cal Fire further benefits Yuba Water’s ongoing efforts to support healthier, more resilient forests in an area that has experienced numerous wildfires over the course of the past 22 years.
These funds will be used for the Yuba Foothills Healthy Forest Project, a collaborative effort that includes Yuba Water Agency, Cal Fire, the Plumas National Forest, Yuba Watershed Protection and Fire Safe Council, private landowners and local residents.
This grant will support significant biomass removal treatments on 5,375 acres in the Yuba County foothills, all of which are adjacent to communities with limited resources for fire risk reduction efforts, including Oregon House, Dobbins, Brownsville, Challenge and Rackerby. These treatments will improve forest health and reduce the risk of a catastrophic wildfire within the “Project Impact Zone” that spans more than 71,000 acres and includes an estimated 2,721 structures.
Another person helping lead the local effort is Steve Andrews. Leveraging more than 42 years of forestry experience, Andrews is serving as the project coordinator responsible for planning, technical oversight, management of partners and consultants, and coordination of the work. As acting executive director of the Yuba Watershed Protection and Fire Safe Council, Andrews is excited to help implement landscape-scale forest treatments that will assist foothill residents while also improving the overall health of the forest.
“The specific project area and treatments have been developed cooperatively and strategically to provide the greatest benefit to the local communities and project partners,” Andrews said. “The project also compounds the benefits already realized from past projects and will work to link these activities to future projects within the watershed.”
Some of the key proposed activities include extensive forest fuels reduction using mastication and hand and machine piling; prescribed fire via pile-burning and under-burning; pest management through thinning and herbicide applications; reforestation; and biomass utilization (see photos and video below).
Ultimately, the project will expand and improve forest management to enhance forest health and resilience on both natural and working lands.
This collaborative effort in its entirety was designed, planned and refined by fire agency professionals, forest fuels managers, water resource specialists and registered professional foresters.