Above is a map of the Trestle Forest Health Project (TFHP), a plan to treat 16,000 acres of land south and east of Grizzly Flats to improve forest health and fire resiliency. On September 11, 2017, after four years of proposals and environmental impact studies, Eldorado National Forest (ENF) Supervisor Lawrence Crabtree signed his decision to thin thousands of acres of forest. However, by the summer of 2021 only 270 acres of fuel reduction were complete, according to TFHP partner National Wild Turkey Federation. So, what went wrong?
While covering the case against David and Travis Shane Smith as well as the initial response to the Caldor Fire, I have also been researching how the forest was managed in the years leading up to the fire. This article is an introduction to a series exploring how forest mismanagement may have increased the risk to the Grizzly Flats area and, subsequently, El Dorado County.
In Part 1 of this series we will look at the condition of the ENF in 2013 and why a forest thinning project was proposed to the National Forest Service and the community of Grizzly Flats. We will then walk through the earliest planning of what would become the TFHP and try to understand why it took four years to obtain plan approval. From there we will examine how 16,000 acres of planned forest treatment in 2017 were reduced to just 270 thinned acres by 2021.
The people of El Dorado County want to know why their cherished land burned and why their homes were destroyed. The answer to this question is, unfortunately, far from simplistic. We know the Caldor Fire was enhanced by years of historic draught and driven by weeks of unstable weather. We know miscommunication in the early days of the fire hampered efforts to stop the flames from reaching heavy timber and spreading towards Grizzly Flats. We also know investigators believe the fire was human-caused and we are learning about the men accused of starting it.
But in order to gain a holistic understanding of what exactly happened here we also need to look at how the forest was managed in the years leading up to the fire. I hope this series will do just that.
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