Over the Back Fence

Debbie Croft: Nonprofit discusses Rim fire ramifications

composed@tds.netJanuary 11, 2014 

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part series.

Close to 100 people attended the Yosemite Gateway Partners meeting at Yosemite Lodge this week. They represented state, county and federal agencies, private businesses, non-profit groups and the media. And a few came just because they love Yosemite.

Yosemite Gateway Partners is a non-profit organization formed almost 15 years ago. The group brings Yosemite National Park and its surrounding communities together in a mutually beneficial working relationship to address the important issues affecting the region.

This quarterly meeting addressed how the Rim fire affected the communities and the park economically, environmentally and culturally.

A little over 250,000 million acres burned during the fire last August and September. The natural disaster involved Yosemite National Park, Stanislaus National Forest and Tuolumne County directly. Neighboring counties were also affected to some degree.

Business virtually shut down for touring companies, putting many local residents out of work. One cafe owner along Highway 120 had to lay off 12 of his 15 employees during the Rim fire. More area hotels, restaurants and businesses would have suffered, too, except for firefighters needing food and lodging.

Rob Griffith, who is with the Stanislaus National Forest, said his agency now has the job of removing dead trees from burned areas near roads, trailheads, recreation sites and other public areas.

Analysis in the works

An environmental analysis is being conducted to determine whether the timber can somehow be used as a commodity. If salvaged timber can be used commercially, money received will go toward recovery and restoration efforts.

Griffith also said that an environmental review process is being followed, because the Forest service wants to protect what vegetation and wildlife is left.

“Some wildlife use black, dead trees for their habitat, but not all,” he said.

As for reforestation, Griffith is not sure yet when trees will be replanted. The Forest Service is looking at areas where trees will naturally replant themselves and where reforestation efforts will work best.

According to Chris Graham, a hydrologist with Hetch Hetchy Water and Power, there wasn’t much burn area within the upcountry watersheds. Low forest densities and limited fuels exist near Hetch Hetchy, Lake Eleanor and Cherry Lake. Only a few spot fires needed to be contained in the granite-dominated basin.

“Water sampling and monitoring have shown no fire impacts on water quality, compared to samples taken just a week before the fire,” Graham said.

Water lines damaged

In addition, there was no damage to the water delivery system, but distribution lines were damaged in four areas. Some loss of communications occurred, and multiple non-critical structures (such as storage sheds) were destroyed

Caltrans Maintenance Manager Rick McComb oversees the eight counties within District 10.

During the Rim fire, Caltrans was called out by California Highway Patrol to keep roads open and provide access for evacuation. Only a few days after the fire started, it became obvious that a bigger Caltrans mobilization was needed. Other counties were called, including 50 Caltrans specialists.

McComb described some of the recovery restoration efforts that have already been implemented.

Supplies were hauled into the Groveland station, along with 40 pieces of equipment. Wood guardrail posts had burned and needed replacement, so guardrails could be reattached. Caltrans erected new highway signs, removed hazard trees, provided traffic control for road closures, hauled off associated waste, plus much more.

Fortunately very little asphalt on Highway 120 was damaged.

“Working with the Forest Service, $400,000 of hydra-seeding was placed in areas below roads to protect the roads and stabilize land surrounding the roadway,” McComb said. “Germination is already starting.”

“As the third-largest fire in California’s history, we will see a huge, huge impact from this for a long time to come,” he added.

Yosemite Gateway Partners meets quarterly, and the public is invited. To learn more about the group, visit www.yosemitegatewaypartners.org or call (209) 962-4917.

Debbie Croft writes about life in the foothill communities. She can be reached at composed@tds.net.

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