Wildfire Protection Begins With a Healthy Forest
Southern California Edison’s foresters at Shaver Lake had a little bigger spring planting challenge in April than your average home gardener: plant 16,000 native ponderosa pine and sugar pine seedlings on 300 acres.
The planting is a twice-a-year ritual at SCE’s forest in the Sierra east of Fresno to replenish trees lost to age, drought and the bark beetle infestation. By strategically planting native trees and plants, the reforestation helps strengthen the forest’s resistance to wildfire, which is a natural occurrence in the Sierra.
But planting on this scale is no easy feat.
This spring’s planting began in April after the mountain snows receded in Shaver Lake. Six to eight SCE employees did the work each day, breaking up into two-person teams. One dug a hole with a blunt spear-shaped tool called a dibble while the second came behind, inserting a seedling grown at SCE’s Forest Tree Nursery in nearby Auberry. They planted all 16,000 seedlings in eight days.
“You have to really love it because it’s a lot of work,” said Jeff Pierini, an SCE reforestation specialist and wildlife biologist.
Ryan Stewart, SCE’s forestry supervisor, noted forests do recover on their own over time after trees die or are removed, but the utility’s reforestation effort helps speed up the process. The foresters also can select hardier, native trees and plant different species to provide more diversity in the forest than might otherwise grow naturally.
“We’re sort of kick-starting the recovery cycle,” Stewart said.
Reforestation is only one tool SCE foresters use in maintaining a healthy, wildfire-resistant forest. For more than 40 years, SCE’s forestry staff has also conducted prescribed burns in the spring and fall to rid the utility’s forest of overgrown brush, small trees and dead material that could serve as fuel for a more dangerous blaze.
SCE forestry staff also builds firebreaks to help stop fires on or near the utility’s forestland. Because SCE’s forest only covers 20,000 acres in the middle of the Sierra National Forest, the utility’s staff also works with the neighboring Highway 168 Fire Safe Council and Cal Fire to support their effort in removing brush and building firebreaks.
We all take a sense of ownership in this land. We’ve been working here and feel like we’re part of the property and part of the lands and we want to see it thrive.”Ryan Stewart, SCE Forester
Howard Hendrix is president of the fire safe council, which is the liaison between the community and government agencies in educating the public about fire safety and in creating and maintaining a more resilient landscape.
He said SCE’s support for the council dates back years. The utility helped the council 17 years ago get funding for a fuelbreak along Cressman Road in the community, an ongoing project that helps protect the community.
More recently, Hendrix said SCE forester Ryan Stewart’s work was key to the council’s success in obtaining a $1.3 million state grant last year to build the Shaver West firebreak. The firebreak will protect the community from a fire running up the mountain from Jose Basin.
“SCE as a public utility does public good and it has done a lot of public good in this area,” Hendrix said.
Stewart said SCE’s foresters see their work as more than just maintaining the forest.
“We all take a sense of ownership in this land,” he said. “We’ve been working here and feel like we’re part of the property and part of the lands and we want to see it thrive.”