NEVADA CITY, CA—Yesterday, at the North Columbia Schoolhouse Cultural Center, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) named the Yuba Watershed Institute (YWI) their Conservation Partner of the Year for 2023. YWI is a local nonprofit that has been operating on the San Juan Ridge for more than 30 years under a series of cooperative agreements with BLM, to manage the 960-acre ‘Inimim Forest. In recent years, the two organizations have expanded the collaboration to other parts of the Yuba River watershed.
Leveraging Partnership to Maximize Impact
Collaboration between BLM and the YWI has been a force multiplier increasing the impact that either organization could have achieved individually. BLM has provided technical expertise through environmental analysis and trusted the YWI with planning and treatment on more than 3,200 acres of federal forestlands. Through community engagement and strategic grant writing, the YWI has secured funding for planning and implementation to improve forest health, safeguard ecological diversity, and develop greater fire resilience. “The Motherlode Field Office is grateful for the tenacity and long-term vision of YWI. This partnership affords our agency the capacity to conduct this landscape level work that otherwise would not be possible. We are grateful for such a capable partner to help us steward these public lands,” says BLM Central California District Manager, Chris Heppe.
Forest Health Projects in the Works
Since 2018, the YWI has completed forest resilience treatments on 510 acres of the ‘Inimim Forest Restoration Project. “We’ve had strong momentum securing funding recently. In March of this year, we were awarded $1.2 million from the Sierra Nevada Conservancy to complete the final phase of the project, which will reduce understory, ladder, and canopy fuels on about 280 more acres. We are thrilled to get started,” says the YWI’s Executive Director, Chris Friedel.
Building on the success of restoring the ‘Inimim Forest, more recently YWI has pursued forest improvement and fire resiliency projects in the wildland urban interface closer to Nevada City on BLM forest and Bear Yuba Land Trust conservation lands. These projects include the Round Mountain Landscape Resilience Project and the Little Deer Creek Landscape Resilience Project with assistance from the Sierra Streams Institute. With funding from the Sierra Nevada Conservancy’s Prop 1 and Prop 68 grant programs, planning and environmental compliance are currently underway for these new projects.
Left Photo: From left to right - Bob Erickson, founding board member of the YWI; Liz Meyer-Shields, BLM Branch Supervisor ; Chris Friedel, YWI Executive Director; Karen Mouritsen, BLM State Director; and Chris Dallas, Central Subregion representative for the Sierra Nevada Conservancy. Right Photo: YWI Executive Director Chris Friedel receives the Conservation Partner of the Year from BLM State Director Karen Mouritsen.
Fire Resiliency Projects on the Horizon
The South Yuba Rim Hazardous Fuels Reduction Project, a 6,000-acre strategic planning area on the San Juan Ridge, has been identified as a top priority by a suite of partners, including CAL FIRE, North San Juan Fire Protection District, 13 Firewise communities, the YWI, and the County of Nevada’s Office of Emergency Services (OES). This year, OES secured over $200,000 to begin planning and environmental compliance on 800 acres in partnership with the YWI. Funding is included for robust outreach to the community and private landowners within the project footprint, scoping and design, biological and cultural surveying, as well as environmental permitting.
YWI/BLM Partnership is a Model for Local and Federal Collaboration
The BLM Mother Lode Field Office manages over 230,000 acres of public land in Central California across ten counties. While much of this land is in the wilderness far from people, there are also myriad parcels in the wildland urban interface adjacent to neighborhoods. This opens the opportunity for similar community groups to collaborate with BLM to further wildfire mitigation goals, and others have had great success. For example, the Fire Safe Council of Nevada County has been working with BLM since 2010 on the Ponderosa West Project, the Deer Creek Canyon Shaded Fuel Break and in Firewise Communities including Alta Sierra, Banner Mountain, Jones Bar and Alison Ranch Road. “Fire Safe Council considers our partnership with BLM to be integral to the planning and implementation of our large, shaded fuel breaks. Without their willingness to partner, these projects would have acres of untreated land nested within them,” says Jamie Jones, Executive Director of the Fire Safe Council of Nevada County.
We are so grateful for the leadership, commitment to conservation, and community advocacy of the YWI. The County sends a warm congratulations for their recent award,” says County of Nevada Office of Emergency Services’ Senior Administrative Analyst, Alex Keeble-Toll.