Stewards of the Land

By Emily Compton

Tree planters reforesting the Moonlight Fire burn scar. Photo provided by Micah Silver

Resource conservation districts are not new to the United States. Following the destruction and devastation of the Dust Bowl in the early 1930s, leaders in Washington, D.C., began drafting legislation to protect the nation’s natural resources, specifically soil. This legislation established the Soil Conservation Service as a permanent agency in the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The first conservation district was formed in North Carolina in 1937. By 1945, all 48 states had passed district-enabling acts.

In 1994, Congress changed the Soil Conservation Service name to the Natural Resources Conservation Service to better reflect the broadened scope of the agency’s concerns.

The history of conservation districts in California begins in the 1940s. While many resource districts have combined, there are still 102 resource districts in California.

The Feather River Resource Conservation District, formerly known as the Indian-American Valleys Resource Conservation District, is headquartered in Quincy. The RCD was established in 1954 and is comprised of roughly 2,200 square miles bordering the Lassen, Shasta, Tehama, Butte, Yuba, and Sierra county lines.

The FRRCD serves, cooperates with, and assists private landowners, agricultural producers, and other citizens and landowners to help analyze, plan, design, and implement soil, water, forest, and wildlife conservation practices within the RCD’s district boundaries. As a special district, it receives no public funding. It relies on grants and private donations to fund its work.

Plumas Underburn Cooperative

The Plumas Underburn Cooperative is a joint effort with the Plumas County Fire Safe Council.

Wildfire season is becoming longer and more destructive in California and across the country. The PUC understands California is full of ecosystems already adapted to wildfire, and believes in using prescribed fire as an effective way to reduce surface fuels covering much of local landscape floors. Fire suppression has thrown the natural cycle of fire off.

The FRRCD and PUC partner in offering a program that assists local landowners with fire prevention and recovery, including fuel reduction and erosion control. Anyone looking to get involved with the PUC, to help burn, participate in trainings, or learn about setting up a PUC event for their property can sign up for the email list at the Plumas Fire Safe website.

Projects & Programs

The Feather River Resource Conservation District offers many programs to local landowners and is working on a variety of projects.

Plumas Underburn Cooperative member Kelby Gardiner managing a prescribed fire. Photo by Brad Graevs

The Cresent Mill Wetlands project began in 2005. A newly created wetland area in Cresent Mills is owned by Caltrans but the land is managed and maintained by the Resource Conservation District. The land was once a mill but is being restored with native plant species and improved hydrolic function. Since the restoration project has begun there has been a noticeable increase in wildlife at the site. The site has also served as an outdoor classroom to Greenville High School Natural Resources Academy students.

The Moonlight Fire destroyed approximately 65,000 acres across Plumas National Forest in September of 2007. Twelve years later, an additional 55,000 acres burned.

Reforestation in these areas occurred in 2009 and 2010. Presently, the FRRCD—together with the U.S. Forest Service, the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, and One Tree Planted—continue the effort in the footprint of both fires.

Close to 1,100 acres were reforested in 2020. The conservation district’s goal is to have about 1,600 acres completed in 2021 and 2022. The project is funded through a Good Neighbor Agreement with the USFS and Sierra Nevada Conservancy.

FRRCD was awarded a Regional Forest and Fire Capacity grant, and the funds have allowed the district to strategically plan fuels reduction and forest health projects that specifically address wildfire risk in the region.

This planning is critical for the conservation district. The ability to look for areas at elevated risk for wildfire and plan projects to reduce the risk in those areas can prevent loss of infrastructure, homes, wildlife habitat, and other natural resources.

This grant and the planning completed because of it has allowed the resource district to pursue funding for high-risk fire areas. The funding also helps the FRRCD to be a better resource for tackling daunting wildfire risks

The FRRDC hopes to receive funding from the Sierra Nevada Conservancy for a forest health project in the Mohawk Valley.

The SNC board of directors is scheduled to award funds this month.

The Mohawk Valley Forest Health Project would build on current fuels reduction projects being done around the Mohawk Valley and Lakes Basin areas. Due to the steep terrain, this project will be mostly accomplished through hand thinning with chain saws.

For more information, visit the Feather River Resource Conservation District website or call (530) 927-5299.