Human suppression of wildfire has resulted in overly dense conditions; loss of old-growth trees and wildlife habitat; and increased risk of severe wildfire in the Manzanita Lake and Lost Creek areas. These combined areas are known as the Northwest Gateway, which contains numerous facilities and other infrastructure along the park highway. The Northwest Gateway project uses a two-step process to reduce forest density through one-time use of mechanized equipment and then apply prescribed fire to restored forests 3 to 5 years after mechanical treatment.
The overall goal of this treatment strategy is to re-establish a fire adapted forest landscape by restoring a more resilient, diverse forest structure. Specifically, the treatment will maintain a multi-aged forest with significant old-growth elements, promote a more varied stand structure and stand species diversity, and restore and protect wildlife habitat.
One hundred years of fire exclusion has resulted in overly dense and unhealthy forest areas. In the absence of surface fires, young white fir have formed dense thickets crowding out old growth pines, aspen stands, and understory shrub and grass vegetation. Restoring forests to pre-suppression conditions will reduce old growth mortality rates, promote a more varied stand structure, and restore and protect wildlife habitat.
The first step in this forest restoration process involves one-time entry with mechanized equipment to reduce live understory and ladder fuels. Prescriptions for each unit identify which fuels will be removed and focus on areas near old-growth pine, aspen groves, and healthy pine stands. Successful fuel removal reduces the possibility of high-intensity wildfire and prepares the forest for a return to historic and natural fire activity.
Once natural fuel load levels are restored through mechanical treatment, fire is reintroduced through application of prescribed fire. This second step is completed approximately 3 to 5 years after mechanical treatment. Historically, fire burned regularly in this area every 5 to 20 years, naturally maintaining density and forest health. Prescribed fire applications in similar conditions without prior mechanical treatment have resulted in high-intensity fire behavior. The combination of both treatments restores healthy forest structure and supports the use of prescribed fire to maintain areas without further use of mechanical equipment.
Project Accomplishments and Next Steps
Mechanical treatment in 2014 successfully restored natural fuel loads to areas closest to the Manzanita Lake Area (units 1-7).
Reducing fuels and restoring forest health in the treatment areas will:
One hundred years of human suppression of wildfire has resulted in overly dense conditions and loss of old-growth trees and wildlife habitat. In the absence of wildfire, white fir is crowding out other vegetation, gradually replacing jeffrey pine, and creating hazarous fire conditions.
Mechanical treatment is an effective and efficient tool for reducing fuels in developed areas. NWG treatment units are adjacent to numerous facilities and infrastructure including campgrounds, historic buildings, and trails. Mechanical treatment prescriptions for the units identify which fuels will be removed and focus on areas near old-growth pine, aspen groves, and healthy pine stands.
Prescribed fire mimics nature's way of maintaining forest health. Once fuels are stored to pre-suppression levels through mechanical treatment, manual treatment, or lightning-ignited fire, prescribed fire can be applied to reintroduce natural fire regimes. In the NWG project, prescribed fire is applied 3 to 5 years after mechanical treatment. Prescribed fire applications in forests with similar pre-restoration conditions have resulted in high-intensity fire behavior.
The relatively moderate effects of the 2021 Dixie Fire within Lassen Volcanic are one example of the positive impacts of fire management. Past fuel reduction activities, weather, and firefighting efforts helped to slow the fire's progression through the park and resulted in more varied levels of burn severity. Effects of the nearly one-millon-acre fire were much more severe in untreated forests that remained overly dense following 100 years of fire exclusion.
Northwest Gateway Project News
Last updated: March 6, 2023