Forest Service News Release
Yreka, Calif., October 6, 2023— Autumn has arrived in Siskiyou County, bringing cooler temperatures and shorter days. These conditions bring a prime opportunity for firefighters to shift their focus from fighting wildfires to putting good fire on the ground, in the form of prescribed burning. In the coming weeks smoke may become visible around parts of the Klamath National Forest as fire personnel take advantage of optimal burning conditions to implement a variety of important prescribed burn projects. Prescribed fire can take the form of pile burning or broadcast burning, also known as underburning. There are many benefits that prescribed fire brings to the fire-adapted landscapes of the Klamath National Forest. Historically, wildfires burned in these landscapes at regular intervals – roughly every 15 years in the mixed conifer forests that comprise much of the Klamath, and even more frequently in other vegetation communities like Ponderosa pine forests. These fires typically burned at low to moderate severity and were started either by lightning or by the Native American Tribes that inhabited the landscape.
The benefits that regular low- to moderate-severity fire provides to the ecosystems of the Klamath National Forest are many. One product of regular wildfire is the consumption of fuels from the forest floor and understory. Regular intervals of fire maintained fuel loadings at levels that kept fire behavior relatively moderate and served as a regular ‘cleaning’ of forested ecosystems, removing surface fuel accumulations, understory, and decadent brush, keeping insects and disease at bay. Another benefit of fire comes from nutrient cycling. When forest litter, logs, and understory burn at low-to moderate severity, the nutrients are released back into the soil, contributing to the sprouting of nutritious young vegetation for wildlife forage. Wildlife habitat was also a product of the regular fire regime. When moderate severity fire occurred in forests, patches of larger trees would die, creating snags for birds and other animals to nest and forage in.
Now, land managers look to implement prescribed fire at the right time, under the right conditions, and in the right place to mimic the types of fire that kept forests in our area healthy. The fuel reduction that keeps forests resilient to future impacts from wildfire also serves to decrease fire behavior, allowing firefighters to safely engage a wildfire when it has potential to threaten communities or other critical resources. Prescribed fire is also used to improve wildlife habitat and forage, or to encourage growth of plants that may be threatened or are culturally valuable to local Tribes.
The following are prescribed burn projects that Klamath National Forest fire managers are planning on implementing this fall, and into winter, as weather conditions permit:
Goosenest Ranger District
Fire personnel could be starting in the coming days with pile burning operations at high elevations on the Goosenest Ranger District. The Black Rock and Butte projects are located 10-11 miles west of Macdoel, where fire managers will target up to 130 total acres of hand pile burning. This fall and winter the Goosenest Ranger District may burn up to 5,300 acres of piles located throughout the district, many of which have been created through a partnership with the California Deer Association.
The Goosenest will also be looking to implement three underburn projects this fall. The First Creek underburn is located on the north side of the Grass Lake rest stop on CA Highway 97. The goal of this prescribed burn is to reduce the likelihood of intense wildfires that damage wildlife habitat and timber resources while improving stand heath and resiliency by reducing surface fuel loads in this mixed conifer and brush project area. This 1200-acre project ties together holding features created by the Little Deer Prescribed Fire Project (completed in 2010) and the 2014 Little Deer fire (2014). Collectively, these features will benefit fire suppression efforts in the event of a large-scale wildfire.
The Phacelia Cookei Habitat Enhancement Project is on the north side of Military Pass Road about three miles east of CA Highway 97. The purpose of the project is to enhance habitat in and near existing populations of Phacelia cookei, a plant which only occurs at the base of Mt. Shasta and is in decline. This experimental treatment looks to burn small units of Ponderosa pine with brush understory on a total of 1.5 acres.
The Erickson underburn is four miles east of Grass Lake, south of CA Highway 97 in Ponderosa pine overstory with pockets of juniper and an understory of brush and white fir saplings. Higher-elevation portions of the project contain white fir and lodgepole pine. Fire managers will target about 450 acres of this ongoing prescribed burn project, which looks to increase stand resilience to insects, disease, drought, and wildfire; accelerate development of larger trees; improve stand health; and improve big game browse and forage.
Fire personnel will also continue working on the Van Bremmer underburn near Tennant, which has been in progress over the last few burn seasons. Up to 1500 acres could see prescribed burning this fall if conditions allow. The project goals are to reduce loadings of surface and ladder fuels in an effort to decrease fire behavior during future fire events, while increasing resiliency of the mixed conifer stand to the effects of insects and disease. The project also seeks to improve forage for big game.
Salmon/Scott River Ranger District
Picking up where they left off this spring, fire managers from the Salmon/Scott District plan on returning to the Scott Bar Mountain Underburn, approximately 12 miles west of Fort Jones. Up to 500 acres could see prescribed fire this fall in the Ponderosa pine-dominated stands with areas of oak woodland. Prescribed fire will be used to reduce surface fuels and understory saplings to aid firefighters in the suppression of wildfires. Fire will also be reintroduced into previously burned stands to maintain desired conditions. Some of the activities associated with the Scott Bar Mountain prescribed burn were used for suppression actions during the 2023 Happy Camp Complex. The project will help to improve defense of private property and residences during wildfires and also focuses on habitat enhancement for the Scott Bar Salamander, Black-Tailed Deer, and Wild Turkey within the project area.
The Petersburg Pines underburn project is about 225 acres south of Cecilville, adjacent to the South Fork of the Salmon River at Specimen Gulch and Saint Claire Creek. This underburn aims to reduce potential wildfire severity by reducing fuel loads to aid in the protection of Cecilville during future wildfires. Prescribed burning will also promote a more resilient forest that is resistant to insects, disease, and stand-replacing wildfires in this mixed conifer stand.
The Salmon/Scott District will also be burning up to 1500 acres of piles this fall and into winter. Piles range from hand-thinning piles to landing and machine piles. The largest concentrations of piles on the District in the East Fork Scott Project area, west of Callahan; the Petersburg Pines Project two miles southwest of Cecilville; and the Red Salmon Project, 2-6 miles south of Forks of Salmon.
Happy Camp/Oak Knoll Ranger District
Happy Camp fire crews will be focusing efforts on nearly 3,000 acres of hand and machine pile burning. 1,845 acres of pile burning will occur within the 2020 Slater Fire footprint, and 246 acres of pile burning will occur within the Two Chiefs-funded Lake Mountain Ridge Fuels Management Zone Project, south and west of Lake Mountain Lookout. Two areas of roadside piles are planned for burning as well: 287 acres along Forest System Road 46N65 northeast of Lake Mountain, and 266 acres along Grider Ridge on Forest System Road 47N77. As conditions allow, additional pile burning may occur on units between the community of Happy Camp and Huckleberry Mountain and between Seiad and Lake Mountain.
On the east side of the District, Oak Knoll fire personnel will also be focusing on pile burning. Pile burning will be occurring just west of Yreka in the Humbug area, where up to 500 acres of piles will be burned within the Craggy Project. The Craggy Project was designed at the landscape level to reduce the threat of wildfire to Yreka and surrounding communities while improving the general landscape’s resilience to the effects of fire. North of CA Highway 96 from the town of Klamath River to Horse Creek, roughly 1300 acres of piles from the West Side Recovery and the Horse and Doggett projects will be targeted for burning.
Smoke is a natural byproduct of prescribed burning. Prescribed burn bosses develop smoke management plans in coordination with local air districts to minimize the impacts of smoke to sensitive areas like communities and roadways. Motorists are asked to use headlights and reduce speeds when driving in areas of smoke and watch for fire personnel and equipment that may be working in the area.
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