The Genesee Valley is located in the Upper Feather River Watershed in Plumas County, California. The Project footprint is located within the Genesee Valley and includes 133 acres of underburning on Heart K Ranch and 222 acres within Plumas National Forest, totaling 355 acres. The Genesee Valley is one of the easternmost valleys in the northern Sierra Nevada Mountains. Genesee is a small, rural, unincorporated community with high fuel loads in adjacent forests which establish ladder fuels and perpetuate a high risk of wildfire. Indian Creek, which runs through Genesee Valley, is dammed upstream at Antelope Lake; one of ten reservoirs within the SWP. Indian Creek runs downstream into Taylorsville until its confluence with Spanish Creek. All tributaries within the upper Feather River Watershed drain into Oroville, a principle reservoir of the State Water Project, which provides drinking water for 25 million Californians and irrigation for 750,000 acres of agricultural land.
Plumas Audubon Society was awarded funding from the Sierra Nevada Conservancy to implement the Genesee Valley Watershed Improvement Project, with the goal of returning fire to its rightful place in our ecology. The cessation of traditional burning practices over the past 150 years have led to forests in the Sierra Nevada with a higher density of small diameter trees and an abundance of ladder fuels. These effects are evident in our project area. The Genesee Valley is listed as a Community at Risk in the Plumas County Communities Wildfire Mitigation Plan and the CAL FIRE Unit Strategic Fire Plan for Lassen, Modoc, and Plumas Counties. Millions of acres of forest in the northern Sierra Nevada, including the Genesee project area, are classified as ‘high priority’ for treatment by CAL FIRE to prevent severe wildfire threats. In fact, 74% of Sierra Nevada forest land has not had a single wildfire or prescribed burn in the last 103 years. The Genesee Project will reduce the likelihood of stand replacing fires by expediting prescribed burning. Under burning will create a resilient ecosystem that is less susceptible to high severity forest fire by opening up oak woodlands, increasing understory growth and biodiversity, while creating seasonal jobs.
Plumas Audubon Society (PAS) and Feather River Land Trust (FRLT) are pleased to share that work on the Genesee Valley Watershed Improvement Project (Project) will begin this fall. The primary objective of the Project is to reduce fuel loading to protect habitat and homes adjacent to the project area while taking steps toward watershed restoration. The project area includes private and public lands in and around Genesee Valley, Genesee Woods and Franks Valley.
The legacy of this project is a testament to the success of collaborative landscape-level projects across private and public lands, and the many steps it took to get us here.
Funded in 2014 by the National Forest Foundation, the Genesee Valley Watershed Improvement Project was originally developed by Feather River Resource Conservation District, Feather River Land Trust and Plumas Audubon Society with the help of David Arsenault, Trina Cunningham, and Darrel Jury. Initial phases of the project included education and cultural burning. A collaborative underburn occurred that year on both the Heart K Ranch, owned by Feather River Land Trust and on adjoining public lands.
In 2016, PAS received a planning grant from the Sierra Nevada Conservancy to complete environmental compliance process including the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) compliance across an 838-acre project area. Planning for the Genesee Valley Project was managed by PAS which surveyed for sensitive species, including Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis), Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis), and Sierra Yellow-legged Frog (Rana sierrae). Forestry, hydrological, botanical, and archaeological surveys were also completed by PAS contractors during the planning phase of the project.
In 2018, the Plumas County Fire Safe Council leveraged Cal FIRE California Climate Investments funding to perform thinning operations across 7,186.6 acres as a part of the greater Plumas Collaborative Project. Genesee was one of many projects across the Plumas National Forest that was treated with hand and mechanical thinning and piling to reduce fuel loads throughout the project area. Thinning throughout the Genesee project area was completed by PCFSC contractors in March. We anticipate our burning contractors will be able to put good fire on the ground this fall. We have begun tribal consultation with local Maidu individuals and organizations as a part of the Genesee project.
The Heart K Healthy Forest Project began in Summer 2012. This project was focused on blending Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and contemporary science-based methods to restore forest and riparian habitats. The Project was located on the Heart K Ranch, a 884-acre working ranch supporting diverse habitats such as oak woodlands, extensive willow and cottonwood stands along the riparian corridor, and montane meadows.
Due to years of fire suppression, the Heart K Ranch’s forests have become overgrown, unhealthy, and susceptible to catastrophic wildfire. Located in Genesee Valley, the Ranch land is an important cultural place for the Mountain Maidu, who lived here for many generations prior to European settlement. Fire suppression in forested areas and commercial timber harvesting practices guided by western science have led to negative effects on structure, composition, and function of forest ecosystems. The term Traditional Ecological Knowledge, or TEK, describes the knowledge held by indigenous cultures about their immediate environment and the cultural practices that build on that knowledge. TEK includes an intimate and detailed knowledge of plants, animals, and natural phenomena, the development and use of appropriate technologies for hunting, fishing, trapping, agriculture, and forestry.
The ultimate goal of these projects is to restore species having cultural value to the Mountain Maidu, provide a place to practice traditional ecological practices, and in the process, restore habitat type and associated species that have declined or become unhealthy in the absence of fire. The project worked to stabilized ¼ mile of eroding banks, thin approximately 100 acres of upland forest, and employ local indigenous people.
By including TEK as a way of managing land, our forest thinning plan is more than just reducing fuel loads to prevent catastrophic wildfire. Bringing together local Mountain Maidu, the US Forest Service, Plumas Audubon, and other local experts, the importance of preserving cultural sites, protecting key areas for avian species, enhancing tree species diversity, and opening the dense canopies to promote black oak growth was recognized and integrated into the plan. Ultimately, it is hoped that we can introduce fire back onto the landscape, as is currently being practiced on adjacent lands, to maintain forest health and diversity.
The Heart K Forest Health Project was funded through the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, Toyota Together Green, and the National Forest Foundation.
Avian Point Count Monitoring at the Heart K Ranch
The Plumas Audubon Society has partnered with the Feather River Land Trust to conduct long-term avian monitoring on the Heart K Ranch. This program has worked evaluate the effects that habitat management and restoration projects have on the bird communities that utilize the grassland, riparian and oak woodland habitats in Genesee Valley. The results from this effort will help to guide the future management of this unique property. Surveys were conducted by Plumas Auduon in 2012-2015.
Several special-status species are known or could potentially occur on the Heart K property that would not be adequately sampled with point counts including the Bank Swallow and Western Screech-Owl. Species-specific surveys and inventory are being conducted for these species.
Installation of bird boxes, willow planting, conifer removal, under burning, and other techniques are being utilized at the Heart K ranch to increase available habitat for wildlife.