Lassen Fire Safe Council adds reforestation projects; Effort aids fire safety and forest regrowth

Aftermath of the Sheep Fire near Susanville in October 2020. Photo by Lassen Fire Safe Council.

In the wake of catastrophic wildfires, the Lassen Fire Safe Council is charting a new path by adding reforestation into its forest management mission. The agency, supported by a new series of CalFire and Federal Emergency Management Agency grants, will be replanting forests damaged by wildfires, a first for the agency and a model approach for other fire safe councils.

The expanded focus allows the Susanville-based agency to address the life cycle and safety of forests before, during and after fires. For 20 years, the LFSC has successfully administered fire prevention tactics to aid homeowners and public and private forest land in and around Lassen County. Its landscape-scale treatments have reduced the density of overgrown forests, creating conditions that keep fires tamer and give firefighters easier access. Now, however, it also aims to demonstrate how reforestation projects can help burned forests avoid, survive and properly recover from future catastrophic wildfires.

“Time is of the essence,’’ said LFSC Managing Director Tom Esgate who has managed fuel reduction treatments on nearly 90,000 acres during his 18 years at the agency. “We have millions of acres that have been burned, and we have to treat those with the same urgency as we do prevention,”

Properly done, reforestation is a type of fuel reduction.

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“After a fire, you get a conversion from forest to 20-foot-tall brush, along with all the burned trees,”Esgate said. “That’s a perfect setup for another catastrophic fire. We recognize that, which is why reforestation is not out of sync with our mission of fuel-reduction work.”

The agency’s first reforestation project started in October 2021 with a $5 million California Climate Investments Forest Health grant, the Hog and Sheep Fire Forest Restoration Project, which will clear the burned timber and plant resilient trees. An additional grant from FEMA will give the LFSC 12,000 acres of reforestation work to complete. The projects are expected to take nearly four years to finalize. The agency is now in the process of applying to reforest an additional 15,000 acres of damaged forest land.

Reforestation is part of the CAL FIRE Climate and Energy Program, which awards grants to help reduce or mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. The projects they fund will bring jobs to local communities, Esgate said.

“Last year we had more than 150 people working in the forest, and this summer we expect to have 300 people working with us on various grants,” he said.

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The collaborative projects will include partners at various levels–federal, state, local and tribal.

The Lassen Fire Safe Council is a nonprofit public benefit corporation whose mission includes helping to spearhead fire safety programs with other local organizations. The reforestation effort stands to illustrate a broader view of fire prevention and forest health.

For more information, call Esgate at 310-0146 or email [email protected].