The fire ban in the Yuba River canyon was instituted in response to the threat of wildfire. Despite this, we continue to find evidence of human-made fires along the banks of the river. Each year our River Ambassadors stop people carrying BBQs down to the river and inform them of the “why” behind the rules. Though River Ambassadors do their best, River Cleanup volunteers find both fire rings and BBQs along the river during our annual Cleanup in September.
This is troubling given the facts. First, we know that 95% of wildfires are caused by human activity, including campfires, BBQs, and parking on dry grass.
Second, nearly all of Nevada County is rated as a High or Very High Risk Zone for wildfire. The high-intensity wildfires that are occurring more frequently in California are exceptionally devastating, as many of us know. They put communities, wildlife, cultural resources, and water supplies at risk.
Third, the river canyon is remote and accessible by vehicle at limited crossings. Windy two-lane roads make evacuation in an emergency perilous. Importantly, the available evacuation routes in relation to the population is worse than many other rural areas, including Paradise, which saw close to 319,000 acres and 19,000 structures burn in 2018.
This year’s lack of precipitation has already led to multiple red flag warnings in our area as well as the surrounding areas. According to Jim Turner, the Fire Chief for Nevada County Consolidated Fire District, “Lower fuel moistures, continuity of fuels and dryer conditions create a recipe for enhanced fire development and growth if a fire were to start. We are seeing characteristics of fire behavior today that we normally see in the later part of June to early July.”
Officials are particularly concerned about fires because, as Chief Turner remarked, “the remote location and limited cellular communication within the South Yuba River corridor” means that “a fire that starts has the potential of becoming a significant incident.”
Now is a great time to remind ourselves the importance of 1) making certain you are signed up for CodeRED emergency fire alerts in your area, 2) knowing your zone code (this new program combines regional data with sophisticated simulations to create zones that will be more useful in emergency evacuation situations) and 3) having multiple emergency evacuation route planned. If a fire is headed your way, where will you go to find safety? How will you get there?
What is SYRCL doing in response to wildfire?
In 2018, SYRCL became one of the nine founding members of the North Yuba Forest Partnership (NYFP). This innovative and diverse partnership, which is comprised of other local organizations like the Nevada City Rancheria as well as regional and national organizations, including the US Forest Service and The Nature Conservancy, is working on one of the most ambitious plans to date to restore 275,000 acres of forest in the watershed. Doing so will create more resilient forest and protect communities, cultural artifacts, and threatened species.
The NYFP’s approach is unique because it is working on an unprecedented scale while also taking into consideration site-specific characteristics, including the inherent topographic features of the landscape. We are leaning on local traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) that demonstrates the benefits of low-to-moderate intensity fire in many conifer forests of the Sierra Nevada. Ecologically-based forest management, together with shaded fuel breaks, defensible space, land use planning, and other measures, can help protect communities from the impacts of high-severity wildfire.
If you would like to learn more about this project and vision, visit www.yubariver.org/nyfp.