North Fork Feather River Headwaters Forest Restoration Project

A panoramic landscape with three tree-covered peaks above a meadow
Flatiron Ridge is a junction of Wilderness, natural and cultural landscapes, and NPS and USFS managed public lands.
 
Two stacked photos of a map showing four watersheds and a rustic lodge in a meadow
Top: The project aims to restore and protect part of one of four watershed headwaters in the park. Bottom: Flatiron Ridge above the historic Drakesbad Guest Ranch in Warner Valley.

This multi-year project (2019-2024) includes fuels reduction activities across approximately 1,940 acres throughout three projects units in Plumas, Shasta, and Lassen counties. The project units include: Flatiron Unit (1,600 acres), Warner Valley Road/Drakesbad Unit (280 acres), and Juniper Lake Road Unit (800 acres).

Sierra Institute Awarded 2019 NPS Wilderness Stewardship Award

Sierra Institute's wilderness fuel model received the National Park Service (NPS) Director’s Wes Henry Excellent in Wilderness Stewardship Award, in the External Partner category for 2019. View the park news release or Sierra Institute's award acceptance video on YouTube.

Project Goal and Objectives

The overall goal of this project is to improve the condition and protection of headwaters of the North Fork Feather River Watershed located within the park. This includes:

  • Creating a more resilient landscape that is most likely to thrive with expected changes to regional climate. Science suggests that forests with various tree ages and species are the most resistant to the increasing challenges of drought and frequent fire.

  • Allowing for the eventual return of natural fire regimes by removing heavy fuels and re-establishing a fire adapted forest. The return of fire at more frequent intervals and at various levels of severity is key to maintaining a healthy forest structure and watershed.

  • Increasing ability to manage fire movement in and outside the park by creating pockets of fire adapted forest. Forests with more open spacing and fewer but larger trees can reduce the potential for large-scale fire by slowing or stopping fire movement, either naturally or with limited intervention.

  • Improving protection of the historic Drakesbad Guest Ranch by reducing heavy fuel loads adjacent to the area. The accumulation of fuels leads to difficult-to-manage fires that can threaten both cultural and natural resources.

 

2020 Actions

Current project efforts are focused on fuels reduction in the Juniper Lake Road unit. This includes work on the 1400-acre Inspiration unit, which extends into Lassen Volcanic Wilderness. A five-person wilderness fuels module staffed by the Sierra Institute is focusing on thinning around Horseshoe Lake cabin and on the Inspiration Point and Snag Lake Trails. Additional crews are completing fuel reduction along the inholder road (east of the Juniper Lake Trailhead). This work is focused on the areas around private property within the park to create a 50-foot buffer outside of property lines and is being completed by an American Conservation Experience (ACE) sawyer crew.

 
Two men with hard hats use a hand saw to cut a fallen tree
Use of cross-cut saws and other hand tools allows for fuel removal with minimal impact to Wilderness areas.

Sierra Institute, Alex Randoph-Lowe

2019 Accomplishments

Sierra Institute for Community and Environment, based out of nearby Taylorsville, staffed an eight-person wilderness fuels module as part of the North Fork Feather River Headwaters Forest Restoration Project. The young-adult crew rearranged fuels and executed a combination of tree thinning and brush removal along park trails for future fire suppression and prescribed fire operations on Flatiron Ridge above Warner Valley. This included preparation of a 6.7-mile treatment area perimeter using only traditional, non-motorized tools. To accomplish this, the crew underwent training to develop their crosscut saw skills and understanding of how stewardship efforts can contribute to wilderness management and the preservation of wilderness character. Learn more about the crew's use of crosscut saws in two episodes of the park podcast, LAVOCast.

 
Map of park showing red outline of treatment area bordered by Warner Valley to the south, Pacific Crest Trail to the west, and Kings Creek to the north and east.
Map of the Flatiron unit in the Warner Valley Area.

Flatiron Unit

Flatiron is the largest unit in the multi-year North Fork Feather River Headwaters (NFRH) Forest Restoration Project in Lassen Volcanic National Park. The 1,600-acre unit falls largely within designated Wilderness. Manual fuel reduction activities in this area will reduce dense build-ups of fuel to ultimately restore and protect the North Fork Feather River Watershed and improve protection of the historic Drakesbad Guest Ranch.

 
Two logos featuring mountains and water

Project Funding

Funding for this project has been provided by the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, an agency of the State of California, under the Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2014 (Proposition 1) grant cycle and in support of the Sierra Nevada Watershed Improvement Program.

Proposition 1 provided $7.5 billion dollars to fund ecosystems and watershed protection and restoration, water supply infrastructure projects, including surface and groundwater storage, and drinking water protection.

 

Minimal Impact Fire Management

The North Fork Feather River Headwaters Project emphasizes minimal impact fire management in Wilderness. Nearly three quarters of the park is designated Wilderness and is afforded the highest level of protection for public lands. However, unhealthy forest conditions in Wilderness areas like Flatiron Ridge necessitate some ecological intervention.

A dangerous build-up of vegetation (fuels) in the Flatiron Ridge area threatens the Wilderness and the watershed it contains. Manual treatment is necessary to remove the build-up of fuels prior to the eventual re-introduction of fire through prescribed burning. Monitoring has shown an increase in fuel loads in this area by 5 tons per acre in just twenty years following previous manual thinning and prescribed burning treatment.

Ecological intervention is intended to protect Wilderness character to every degree possible when action is necessary. This project focuses on the following principles to minimize impact:

Focus efforts on areas that connect different fire regimes in order to reduce the need to intervene in other areas of Wilderness.

Use manual treatment methods to reduce impacts to soundscapes and other Wilderness values. This includes using specialized crosscut sawing techniques to remove large fuels.

Practice Leave No Trace Principles to minimize visual and ecological impacts of human intervention. Just like hikers and backpackers, crew members will make every effort to Leave No Trace. This includes creating fireline that appears as natural as possible and rearranging fuel for future prescribed burning in a way that mimics natural conditions. Additionally, a team biologist will survey and monitor sensitive areas such as badger and salamander habitat and train the crew to identify and reduce disturbance in these areas.

Last updated: August 25, 2020

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