Whitethorn Community Fuels Reduction: A Plan to Improve Safety and Forest Health

February, 2015

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In the late summer and early fall of 2014, the Mattole Restoration Council (MRC) partnered with community members Sanctuary Forest Inc. and Restoration Forestry to begin an important community-level fuels reduction project along Briceland-Thorn Road in Whitethorn.  

The project has been a high priority of the Southern Humboldt Fire Safe Council for over a decade. It is designed to address a major fire safety concern by creating a shaded fuel break along the road that accesses the communities of Whitethorn and Whale Gulch.

The goals of this project are as follows:
• Increase resiliency to wildfire along the major access road for Whale Gulch and Whitethorn communities;
• Protect millions of dollars in property as well as human lives; and
• Educate local communities on the importance of fuels reduction.

In entirety the project could include 8.7 miles of treatments.  The first mile was completed with funding from PG&E in the fall of 2014 during one of the worst drought years on record. The MRC has been working with its partners to find additional funding to complete the project and treat the remaining 7.7 miles of Briceland-Thorn Road to Four Corners.  

Briceland-Thorn Road is a critical ingress and egress route for hundreds of residents. Project treatments will provide a safe evacuation route for the residents along the road, as well as a safe entrance for fire personnel in the case of wildfire or emergencies.

Roadside parcels will only be treated with permission from landowners. The hope is to involve as many as 90 different parcels of approximately 60 landowners. Fuels composed of understory brush and low branches will be removed  from within 35’-65’ per side of the road (actual distances on the ground vary depending on slope, fuel density, site conditions, individual landowner concerns, and environmentally sensitive areas). A result of the project will be the increased fire protection for hundreds of homes and outbuildings in the area as well as our forested landscapes.

Communities and neighborhoods along Briceland-Thorn Road are also adjacent to the BLM-managed King Range National Conservation Area. These public lands are a popular destination for campers and backpackers. Fires started via campfires and lightning strikes have been numerous in the area. In 1973, the 13,000-acre Big Finley fire burned large tracts of land just west of the project area. In the summers of 2003 and 2008, lightning storms hit the area igniting over 50 fires throughout both counties. Dry, hot summer and fall weather, particularly with the 2013-14 drought, cause a hazardous condition in this Wildland
Urban Interface.

The project builds on past shaded fuel break projects that MRC has implemented throughout the watershed. The crew leader, Dave Kahan, has extensive experience in training crews and completing treatments.

The already completed mile has impressed landowners and passersby. This should encourage the remaining landowners to participate in the project. All work requires the signed permission of the landowner. The project is intended to prevent a roadside ignition from becoming a larger fire.  After treatments, future ignitions should remain at surface level, without torching or crowning and, therefore, be easily managed and suppressed by fire personnel.

Species to be removed include coyote brush, blackberry bramble, whitethorn, young Douglas-fir, and some tan oak.  Treatments also include limbing up of older trees with pole saws to remove ladder fuels. Removed fuels will be chipped, lopped and scattered,
or pile burned.

The project also includes an  outreach component to inform and educate landowners, as well as to increase local knowledge of the importance of roadside fuels reduction.
For more information about this project, please feel free to contact us at mrc@mattole.org or
707-629-3514.

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