In a continuing effort to implement fuels reduction and wildfire risk mitigation projects on conservation land it owns, the Land Trust of Napa County recently completed a shaded fuel break on its Aetna Springs Preserve.
A shaded fuel break reduces the amount of vegetation in a forested area to help reduce fire severity and slow the spread of wildfire.
Located northeast of Calistoga, the Aetna Springs Preserve, acquired by the Land Trust in 2020, contains 320 acres of forestland along with meadow, wetland and streamside habitats.
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The preserve also includes one of the most heavily forested sections of Aetna Springs Road, where 1.6 miles of the road runs through the Preserve. This road served as a key access point and line of defense for firefighters during the 2020 LNU Lighting Complex and Glass Fires. In consultation with CAL FIRE and other partners, it was determined that the Land Trust could enhance emergency access along the road and create a firebreak by conducting a forest thinning project that extended 100 feet on each side of the road along the entire 1.6 miles. The project was planned in 2021 and began in January.
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“We’ve worked with CAL FIRE and Napa County Fire toward several similar projects and are pleased that we were able to initiate and complete this project during a window of opportunity in early 2022,” said Mike Palladini, Land Trust of Napa County’s Stewardship Program Manager.
The shaded fuel break treatment, which included thinning dense stands of small trees, chipping woody debris, and limbing larger trees, was also aimed at enhancing overall forest health.
“When we acquired this property in 2020, with the help of CAL FIRE,” said Doug Parker, CEO of the Land Trust, “one of the key reasons was its biological diversity, including an unusual diversity of conifer species. A sustainable management plan was developed, working with a Registered Professional Forester, with the goal of improving forest management and managing for resilience to wildfire and disease. The tree diversity was being threatened by an increasing density of small Douglas fir trees that were competing with the other trees for resources.”
“Specifically, the Land Trust’s forest health objectives were to decrease fire severity and tree mortality and prevent a crown fire by reducing ladder fuels, to increase the health and growth of the remaining trees by reducing resource competition, and to increase habitat diversity by allowing for the persistence of other native trees, such as oaks and ponderosa pines,” said Palladini.
The project was completed at a cost $110,000, with significant help from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the main funder of the project.
“After the 2020 fires burned much of the Aetna Springs Preserve, the Land Trust reached out to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service for post-fire assistance through our ‘Environmental Quality Incentives Program’,” said Evelyn Denzin, a District Conservationist with the agency.
“The Land Trust’s commitment to responsible forest stewardship is clear from the work they accomplished to create a more fire-resilient forest stand structure that maintains large-diameter trees. The low-impact vegetation management methods the Land Trust used minimized soil disturbance and avoided adverse impacts to wildlife habitat,” she added.
“I want to thank Evelyn and NRCS for all of their technical and financial assistance with this project, as well as CAL FIRE and the Napa County Resource Conservation District for providing their valuable input as well,” said Palladini.