Kickoff to Caples Ecological Restoration Project northwest of Kirkwood | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Kickoff to Caples Ecological Restoration Project northwest of Kirkwood

A prescribed burn planned for the coming week will mark the beginning of a multi-year ecological restoration project in the biologically diverse Caples Creek watershed near Kirkwood Mountain.

Eldorado National Forest officials are planning to burn 169 acres about 4 miles northwest of Kirkwood, if conditions allow.

According to a press release from the national forest, a total of 8,800 acres will be burned over the next 10 – 15 years to decrease the risk of wildfire in the watershed, which acts as a vital water supply for 110,000 people in the El Dorado Irrigation District (EID). The district is partnering with Eldorado National Forest and Sierra Nevada Conservancy (SNC) on the project.

The burn planned for next week will take place in an area located on a ridge in the upper watershed near Buck Pasture and Hay Flat.

"The lightning fires that have occurred in this part of the forest over the last 100 years have been suppressed leading to higher fuel loading and tree density," Forest Supervisor Laurence Crabtree said in a press release. "We need to reintroduce fire under moderate conditions so a future wildfire won't cause ecological damage to this important watershed."

Forest staff from the Placerville and Amador Ranger districts started collaborating with EID on the restoration plans in 2010. Since then, SNC has awarded EID two grants supporting the project, according to the press release. A grant for $75,000 to complete the environmental analysis was awarded in 2012, and a grant for $476,709 was awarded in 2016 to implement prescribed fire activities across 4,400 acres of the larger project area over the next several years. In addition to prescribed fire, the implementation grant will fund meadow and aspen restoration activities.

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"This is critical to maintaining EID's water supplies within the South Fork American River Watershed," Dan Corcoran, EID environmental and water resources manager, said in the press release. "Caples Lake and the Caples Creek watershed provide both high quality drinking water and renewable hydroelectric power for the citizens of our region. In addition, there are large heritage trees in the mixed conifer stands as well as meadows, aspen and other hardwoods, American marten, Northern goshawk, and California spotted owl habitat. It's an exceptional recreation area for hiking, fishing, hunting and equestrian use. These are all resources we must work together to protect."

Caples Creek delivers a large amount of water to the South Fork American River which supplies domestic and agricultural water for a large portion of El Dorado County.

"This work in the Caples Creek watershed supports the goal of creating resilient landscapes to protect the water, carbon storage, wood products, habitat and recreation values that our Sierra Nevada forests provide," Jim Branham, executive officer for SNC, said in the release. "It is important that we invest in projects like this that improve the health of our forests."

Approximately 40 firefighters will conduct the upcoming prescribed fire using hand ignition within established control lines. Short term smoke is expected and may be present in the Lake Tahoe Basin, Carson City and Reno given the prevailing southwest winds.

Smoke may also occur in Kirkwood, Kyburz, Strawberry and Meyers due to the tendency for smoke to settle with cool air at night. Smoke sensitive individuals are encouraged to reduce their exposure by avoiding smoky areas, closing windows or staying indoors.

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