Although fire danger may have moved to the back of most people’s minds at this time of year, local organizations are busy preparing for the next fire season.
Calaveras Healthy Impact Product Solutions (CHIPS), a local nonprofit based in West Point that specializes in vegetation management in Calaveras and Amador counties, is currently working on a large fuel reduction project in the Arnold area, dubbed the Arnold-Avery Hazard Fuels Reduction and Fuel Break Maintenance Project.
Working with the Stanislaus National Forest, CHIPS has been awarded a $1.98 million grant for the project through the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s (Cal Fire) California Climate Investments Fire Prevention Grants category.
Situated in the Calaveras Ranger District of the Stanislaus National Forest, the project area is mostly on the north side of Highway 4, directly adjacent to privately owned areas near Hathaway Pines, Avery, Arnold, White Pines and Big Trees. A smaller portion of the project area is located southeast of Dorrington and Camp Connell.
“Project activities will include removal of excess surface and ladder fuels and maintenance and expansion of the 2015 Butte Fire Dozer Line fuel break and the Village fuel break which is located in the vicinity of Dorrington, consistent with the Stanislaus National Forest, Forest Plan Direction,” a press release from CHIPS reads. “The area of project activities includes a total of 940 acres of Sierra mixed conifer forest, all of which are located within the Wildland Urban Interface and the State Responsibility Area.”
The project is part of a collaborative, bi-county fuel break effort aimed at creating a fuel break stretching from the Tiger Creek and View 88 fuel breaks in Amador County to the Arnold-Avery/Ebbetts Pass corridor fuel reduction projects in Calaveras County.
“Much of this larger project has been implemented, funded, and/or completed NEPA/CEQA. This project will tie into these existing efforts and make significant progress toward completing the bi-county fuel break,” the release reads. “As part of the collaborative bi-county fuel break effort, the Arnold-Avery Hazard Fuels Reduction and Fuel Break Maintenance Project will promote landscape scale forest restoration and watershed protection through strategic hazardous fuels reduction, and will provide critical protection of life and private property within multiple at-risk and low-income communities.”
CHIPS was founded in 2004 with a triple-bottom-line approach of fostering forest restoration, social and community well-being and economic well-being.
“CHIPS hires at-risk personnel, and has a long history of hiring Native Americans and others at-risk to carry out its work,” the release reads. “The organization staffs crews across three counties and conducts works on public lands, including four National Forests, Bureau of Land Management and Yosemite National Park lands, and also private lands. CHIPS hires contractors from locally distressed communities which have been heavily affected by the closing of numerous lumber mills as recently as the early 2000s. CHIPS crews and local contractors will be utilized whenever possible to implement the Cal Fire grant, creating new job opportunities, and helping to establish a forest restoration and stewardship economy.”
While the project has funding through 2024, CHIPS Program/Project Manager Megan Layhee said on Jan. 29 that the organization is anticipating the completion of the project by the end of 2022.
“In the next couple of weeks we are set to send out a request for proposal to prospective contractors, and that will take about a month to allow the contractors to place a bid on individual project areas or the whole project area in itself,” she said. “Once we have all the contractor bids in, then there will be a team that will do bid selection, and so once we sign contracts with the contractors and everything is squared away then work can begin. We’re estimating that the actual implementation won’t start at least until spring of this year.”