Trinity Prescribed Burn Plans Spark Concern

A prescribed burn in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, October 2018. Photo: Liz Younger, USFS.
A prescribed burn in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, October 2018. Photo: Liz Younger,

The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) recently closed the comment period on its plans to introduce prescribed fire in the Trinity Alps Wilderness. The proposed project area comprises approximately 58,000 acres or about 11 percent of the entire Trinity Alps Wilderness. Treatments would consist of prescribed fire on ridge tops to create a mosaic burn severity pattern, primarily of low- to moderate-severity surface fire. Patches of high severity may occur, however these are predicted to be a minor component of the treated areas. Fires would be lit by aerial ignition (plastic sphere dispenser and/or helitorch) and/or hand lighting methods.

Kimberly Baker submitted comments for NEC member groups EPIC (Environmental Protection Information Center) and Trinity-based SAFE (Safe Alternatives for our Forest Environment). She expressed that both organizations’ members and supporters have a long-term interest in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest and the Trinity Alps Wilderness and deeply value wilderness characteristics and the invaluable ecosystem services provided by wilderness.

EPIC and SAFE are generally supportive of prescribed fire, but have serious concerns regarding the past track record of USFS prescribed burns in wilderness areas, as most—if not all in the Northern California region—have escaped control. As a result, wilderness characteristics were diminished and multiple large trees had to be cut during attempts to regain control. We believe that the priority, limited funding, and resources would be better focused within the wildland urban interface around homes and communities. There are also concerns with the use and noise of chainsaws and helicopters within the wilderness, the use of helicopter ignitions, as well as the potential threat to soils; botany; and avian, aquatic, and terrestrial species.

EPIC and SAFE urged the agency to adopt a contingency plan as part of or in addition to a burn plan. A contingency plan would describe the resources necessary and readily available should prescribed burns escape.

The groups also requested project specific burn plans (or at least description of the conditions in which burning would be allowed), and require any tree felling by chainsaw or blasting, as well as the extent of hazard tree felling and use of helicopters, to be documented. This information would be invaluable should projects such as this be proposed in the future.

There is an extreme level of risk associated with this project. The Trinity Alps Wilderness is well loved by thousands of people and countless species are safeguarded in these watersheds. We highly recommend investing in and utilizing local experienced workforces to broaden public trust and support.