Could other north state communities follow example of Weaverville Community Forest?

Pat Frost, District Manager for the Trinity County Resource Conservation District speaks during a Weaverville Community Forest meeting in Weaverville on April 15. (Andreas Fuhrmann/Record Searchlight)

A group of mountain bike riders gets ready to head off into the Weaverville Basin Trail system off Ridge Road. The area is part of the Weaverville Community Forest. (Andreas Fuhrmann/Record Searchlight)

The best way to reduce fire danger in the woods close to a town is to put the community in control of forest management.

That's the theory behind a unique program called the Weaverville Community Forest in Trinity County.

"We went at it with the point of view, 'How can we make this forest more fire-safe?' " said Pat Frost, manager of the Trinity County Resource Conservation District.

The community forest has garnered national praise, with the U.S. Department of the Interior set to give its founders the Cooperation Conservation Award next month. Each year the department honors four groups with the award.

The involvement of the community has made the forest successful, said Steve Anderson, manager of the Bureau of Land Management's Redding office. He said the fact that money from any timber sales on the land is spent on further forest projects and the relatively small size of the forest have added to its success.

"It gets to be too challenging if it gets too big," he said.

The BLM and the conservation district established the forest's first 1,000 acres southwest of town through a stewardship contract in 2005. Late last year a similar contract between the district and the U.S. Forest Service added another 12,000 acres to the community forest, sandwiching the town with its own woods to the north and south.

Such contracts typically are created between federal agencies and timber companies to guide the management of timberland. The contract is what makes the forest unique, and a model for what could be done in other north state communities close to federal land, Anderson said.

There is another community forest in Northern California, Arcata's Community Forest on the North Coast. There the city of Arcata formed the 793-acre forest by purchasing 622 acres between 1905 and 1955 and then adding another 171 acres in 2006, according to the city's Web site.

Anderson said he thinks there is the potential of establishing more community forests around the north state similar to the Weaverville project.

For the community forests to be successful, he said, people in the community need to be willing to work together and there should be a commodity that can be sold from the forest - be it timber, sand or gravel.

"You have to have something that you (can sell and) have enough money to go back and do other projects," Anderson said.

In the Weaverville forest, the commodity is timber.

Though there are timber harvests in the forest, those managing the acreage say their first priority is not to produce lumber, but to reduce fire danger.

Pat Frost, District Manager for the Trinity County Resource Conservation District speaks during a Weaverville Community Forest meeting in Weaverville on April 15. (Andreas Fuhrmann/Record Searchlight)

In late summer 2001, Weaverville residents learned just how dangerous fire can be. The 1,680-acre Oregon Fire destroyed 13 homes and threatened the historic downtown. The green, tree-covered hills of the community forest now stand in contrast to the still-recovering land charred by the fast-moving, hot-burning Oregon Fire.

Frost said the group aims to keep future fires from doing such damage through thinning, prescribed fire and other projects close to the community.

"You can't make a forest immune to fire," Frost said. "Fires are going to happen, but you can do things to make fires less severe."

Reporter Dylan Darling can be reached at 225-8266 or ddarling@redding.com.

 

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