Electra Fire Forest Restoration
Conservationists plant ponderosa pine seedlings in Electra, Butte fire scars
- The Union Democrat
- 2 Mar 2023
- By GUY MCCARTHY
People with the Calaveras County Resource Conservation District planted more than 60 ponderosa pine seedlings on about 5 acres of privately-owned land in the Electra Fire burn scar Sunday in Calaveras County, an effort they hope will help restore vegetation in the same Mokelumne River canyon that burned in the 2015 Butte Fire.
The district, also known as CCRCD, is a special district governed by Local Agency Formation Commission laws, approved by Calaveras County voters in June 2016, and established in part in response to the devastating Butte Fire. The CCRCD has seven board members, appointed by the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors.
Volunteers, including CCRCD board member Kent Lambert, CCRCD executive director Gordon Long, and Long's father, Wayne Long, planted the seedlings on private lands accessed from a road called Ponderosa Way, which East Bay Municipal Utility District reseeded for erosion control in the aftermath of the Butte Fire.
Lambert is former watershed manager for East Bay MUD, which owns rights to the Mokelumne River and uses it to provide drinking water to 1.4 million residents of Alameda and Contra Costa counties.
"This was a small token effort," Long said in a phone interview Tuesday. "What we're hoping for is these trees, if they grow, they will provide seed sources to repopulate the rest of this canyon. It was a very diverse habitat type. A lot of pines, oak trees, and subspecies. Some the chaparral regime will grow back from their roots.
"It's a montane chaparral community, including manzanita, ceanothus, blue oaks, and interior oaks, and lots of poison oak. All of that will grow back from its roots, but the ponderosa pines and other pines require reseeding, replacing, new little baby trees in the ground."
The seedlings were donated by families in Glencoe and Forest Meadows, and the family of Emily Fuller, of Rail Road Flat.
Fuller and Kaya Hasbrouck, juniors in Noah Crosson's forestry class at Calaveras High School, helped gather 30 ponderosa pine seedlings on the Fuller family's property in late February, a week before volunteers planted the seedlings below Ponderosa Way.
The CCRCD is 100% grant funded, with grants from state agencies including Cal Fire and the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, Long said. No grant funding was used in the Sunday planting of ponderosa pine seedlings.
"At this point we are looking at this as a pilot project and not planning further planting for a couple years," Lambert said Wednesday. "We will focus on maintaining the trees we plated with some mulching and watering to help get them through the first summer. We will evaluate the success after two years, then make a plan."
One of the things Lambert and CCRCD will be looking at is how well Ponderosa Pines do at the elevations they were planted earlier this week, "in the changing climate we now face," Lambert said. Some research is showing that bands of elevation where plant and animal communities thrive are moving higher in elevation.
"Although our project is not designed for research, we hope to learn something on a small scale," Lambert said.
It was a unique opportunity to restore a small segment of the Butte Fire scar, CCRCD staff said in an announcement this week. No restoration work had been accomplished since the Butte Fire ran through the canyon in September 2015.
This site of seedlings planting, along Ponderosa Way, was chosen because it was a ponderosa pine forest before the Butte Fire, CCRCD staff said. The Butte Fire essentially removed all live conifers inside its footprint.
The CCRCD has committed to watering the ponderosa pine seedlings for at least one summer, to allow them to get a jump start to becoming mature pine trees, CCRCD staff said.
“Wish them luck,” CCRCD staff said. “We understand that only dozens of trees may not seem like a lot, but if these trees survive, they could become the basis for a new forest with the production of seed-bearing cones in the coming years. If we didn’t do something, there would have been no chance for success. At least now, we’ve given this important watershed a fighting chance to support historic stands of ponderosa pines.”
The Electra Fire started July 4 along Electra Road, near the Vox Beach recreation area on the north side of the Mokelumne River, in Amador County. It quickly spread uphill on both sides of the Mokelumne River watershed.
The explosive fire initially trapped about 100 people, including river visitors at Box Beach and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. employees at the Electra Powerhouse upstream from the beach area. The fire also prompted evacuations of hundreds of residents on both sides of the steep sided river canyon in Amador and Calaveras counties.
The Electra Fire eventually burned more than 4,400 acres and threatened about 450 homes before it was declared 100% contained in late July.
One firefighter injury was attributed to the fire on the first day of the blaze. No civilian injuries, no fatalities, and no structure damage or destruction were attributed to the fire.
Authorities speculated the location of the fire’s origin suggested the cause could have been fireworks or a barbecue. As of Wednesday, Cal Fire had not completed its investigation of the cause of the Electra Fire.
The 2015 Butte Fire also started in Amador County and burned into Calaveras County, ultimately causing more than $1 billion in damage in Calaveras County. It was the costliest disaster in county history.
The Butte Fire broke out Sept. 9, 2015, when a gray pine came into contact with a PG&E overhead conductor at 17704 Butte Mountain Road in Amador County, according to a CPUC investigation.
The fast-moving blaze burned 70,868 acres, or 110.7 square miles; destroyed 921 structures, including 549 homes, 368 outbuildings, and four commercial properties and damaged 44 structures; and resulted in two civilian fatalities and one injury.
Both people who died were residents of Calaveras County who refused to evacuate as recommended by local authorities, according to the CPUC investigation. Coroner’s reports indicated the cause of death for both victims was consumption by fire: residential conflagration.
For more information about the Calaveras County Resource Conservation District, go to www.calaverasrcd.org.
Courtesy photo / Kent Lambert (top left); courtesy photos / Gordon Long / CCRCD (others),