Last month I attended a meeting of the Burney-Hat Creek Community Forest and Watershed Group (BHCCFWG, or BHC for short). It was held at the Hat Creek Radio Observatory, a small building and an array of telescope dishes arranged seemingly haphazardly in the valley. The skeletons of burned trees on the surrounding mountains barely visible through the smoky haze made the landscape seem as extraterrestrial as the far-off planets the observatory is searching for. Even inside, sheltered from the smoke, fire was not far from everyone’s mind.
The Collaborative encompasses parts of Lassen National Forest, Lassen Volcanic National Park, private industries, and tribal lands, all of which are impacted by the high severity fires that have been increasing in frequency in recent years. In the Hat Creek Ranger District, 25% of the land area has burned in the last 15 years and fire risk remains high. One of the major goals of the BHC collaborative is to promote fire-resilience, which includes reducing fire risk and severity through thinning treatments to remove small trees that act as fuels.
However, projects can move slowly. Lack of funding, personnel, or affordable contracting options are common and can be difficult to resolve. There is a very real risk that a fire will sweep through and obliterate a project area before the work can be implemented, rendering the planning done on that project futile.
Fire is not the only challenge facing this collaborative group. The group is quite forward thinking and is trying new methods of bringing together the resources of the Forest Service and other members that they have not used before, like Stewardship Agreements. This instrument ties together timber sales and restoration work, allows the Forest Service to partner with other organizations to do the work, and allows the individual forest to retain the revenue rather than sending it back to Washington.
Ideally using a Stewardship Agreement will improve the collaborative’s ability to complete projects and achieve their collective goals, but trying new things comes with its own challenges. The group is still figuring out how this mechanism works and every member has their own perspective on the best way to approach it. There will inevitably be a learning curve and progress may be slow, so the process requires patience. Despite these hurdles, BHC remains a committed and innovative group.
The BHC meeting was the second collaborative group meeting that I have attended during my internship so far. The first was the South Lassen Watershed Group during my first week here in June, which provided a great metric for how much I have learned. I found that I could understand some of the complexities of the discussion of Stewardship Agreements, a mechanism I didn’t even know existed two months ago. It was also interesting to compare and see some similarities and differences between the two groups, such as who the members are and the dynamics among members, what the issues and projects are, and what kind of calm prompting the facilitator offers. Although there are unifying factors like fire and limited resources, the specific capabilities of each group of people are different and a collaborative approach allows each group to combine and direct those capabilities to the specific needs of the landscape and communities. That’s what collaborative management is all about!
By: Hilary Sanders, Natural Resource Social Science Intern