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 BLM California News.bytes 
News.bytes Extra, issue 515

Fuels treatment reduces fire danger, helps local economy

A fire fuels treatment demonstration project in Calaveras County by the Bureau of Land Management's Mother Lode Field Office has helped reduce fire danger while supporting the local economy. (text continues below)

a large red machine grinds up tree branches
A horizontal chipper turns forest waste into biomass fuel.

"We are looking at this as a possible model to help reduce fire danger while creating jobs in the Sierra foothills," said Bill Haigh, Mother Lode Field Office manager.

Trees and brush were thinned on 157 acres near the town of West Point using local contractors, including Native American crews. The project, done under a stewardship contract, generated approximately 5,000 tons of biomass and 160,000 board feet of timber, said Keith Johnson, Mother Lode Field Office forester.

Although the work was expected to take two years, dry weather allowed contractors to harvest the trees in one season.

Logs are going to the Sierra Pacific Industries mill in Sonora, while biomass is going to the Buena Vista biomass plant at Ione.

The biomass plant, which will have about 20 employees at full operation, is being put into service burning natural gas. The plant should switch to biomass next month. In addition to forest waste, the plant will burn walnut shells, tree prunings and other farm waste.

The Mother Lode Field Office manages scattered public lands near West Point in the Lily Gap area. Much of this area has not experienced wildfire in decades. Shrub stands have aged and now contain a larger proportion of dead fuels. In some forest stands understory fuels have increased, creating unhealthy forest conditions and increasing the probability that the area will experience a devastating wildfire, Johnson explained.

At the same time, the local communities have grown. There are now numerous private residences in the area, many of them adjacent to BLM-administered parcels containing dense fuels. Local residents are concerned about wildfire and are anxious to see public land managers like BLM take action to reduce fuels on public lands. The Lily Gap area is considered to be within the wild land-urban interface and the local communities are considered "at risk."

The Lily Gap project is one of the first developed through the Amador - Calaveras Consensus Group - a group of two dozen agencies, local jurisdictions, and non-governmental organizations that are working together to resolve natural resource and economic issues in central Calaveras and Amador counties, Haigh said.

The focal area of this region, centered on the four Calaveras towns of West Point, Glencoe, Wilseyville and Railroad Flat, suffers from nearly 20 percent unemployment, and its towns and ranchettes are surrounded by BLM and Forest Service lands in need of significant fuels reduction work. ACCG's goal is to bring jobs to this economically depressed area and reduce fire danger. 

branches are stacked in a row
Logs and biomass fuel are piled at the landing.

two men in yellow slickers watch a tractor trailer unload wood chips
The Buena Vista biomass plant receives its first load of fuel from the Lily Gap project.

thinned trees stand tall
The thinned timber stand has reduced the risk of catastrophic fire for residents of the Lily Gap area.

- David Christy, BLM Central California public affairs (Jan. 23, 2012)

BLM-California News.bytes, issue 515 -- To subscribe to News.bytes, send an e-mail to: mailto:Join-Newsbytes@List.ca.blm.gov OR visit our News.bytes subscription page.

Last updated: 05-22-2012