Controlled burn helps reduce wildfire risk and restore habitat in the Snell Valley

“The big part is reducing fuels,” said CalFire Battalion Chief Ben Sitter. “Anytime we can reduce fuels in a controlled manner, it helps keep the surrounding community a little bit safer.”

Completing a prescribed burn on Missimer Preserve in June 2021, Land Trust of Napa County hit what you might call a wildfire risk mitigation and habitat restoration jackpot.

Arranging all of the proper approvals, submitting all of the right paperwork and then, ultimately, getting weather ideally suited for a controlled burn that went off safely and effectively is no small achievement. Especially considering the planning and preparation involved.

“These projects can be tough to implement, but when they do happen they are so gratifying because of their fuels reduction and restoration benefits,” said Land Trust Stewardship Program Manager Mike Palladini. “It’s always great to partner with CALFIRE on these important projects, and we very much appreciate their assistance”.

“We had sustained wind up to 3 mph, with gusts up to 8 mph,” said CalFire Battalion Chief Ben Sitter. “Anything over 10 mph and we would not have done it.”

“It worked out just perfect for us,” said Sitter.

The Land Trust completed prescribed burning projects on the Missimer Preserve in 2013 and 2015, and helped facilitate two others on neighboring properties in 2018 and 2019.

For each of these burns, Palladini needed to work with CALFIRE and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, going through a planning and environmental review process, conducting logistics and on the ground site planning, creating a burn plan, and then hoping the weather, air quality and availability of CALFIRE resources all lined up.

Finally, on the day of the scheduled burn, Palladini made one final call to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District at 8:30 am to get the green light. This, after meeting about 40 CALFIRE firefighters at 7am in Pope Valley, including three engines, a bull dozer, a water tender and a hand crew.

Once Palladini got the final ok, CALFIRE had to make one more call to get the final green light from their regional headquarters. And on Tuesday, June 22, 2021, they were able to make it happen.

Wildfire risk mitigation is one of the primary benefits the Land Trust counts on when doing land stewardship work like this. One of the primary goals of this project was to reduce a heavy buildup of fine fuels that can quickly carry a wildfire in an area that has been hard hit by wildfires in recent years.

 

“The big part is reducing fuels,” said Sitter. “Anytime we can reduce fuels in a controlled manner, it helps keep the surrounding community a little bit safer.”

Controlling the invasive plant species that were actively outcompeting and displacing native serpentine meadow species and impacting an area valued for its outstanding wildflower displays was another major benefit of conducting the prescribed burn.

“The serpentine meadow area on the Missimer Preserve is one of the most important botanical sites in Napa County,” said Palladini. “77% of all native, non-woody plant species documented in Napa County can be found in this one 60 acre restoration area, including seven rare plant species that only occur on serpentine soils in and around Napa County. Prescribed burning has been shown to be an effective step in the process of controlling invasive plants and promoting native species in serpentine meadows like this one. We’ve seen a strong positive response from native species and some spectacular wildflower displays following our previous prescribed burning, and hope we’ll see the same response to this recent burn next spring.”