As fall arrives with cooler temperatures in tow, Alta Sierra residents may have begun to notice changes occurring to a neighboring forest landscape known as the Adam Ryan Wildlife Preserve.
Bear Yuba Land Trust employees and local foresters have begun work removing invasive species like Himalayan blackberry and Scotch broom on the 41-acre preserve popularized by hikers who walk the Alan Thiesen Trail, according to a Monday news release issued by the land trust.
The project marks the beginning of a three-year grant-funded work meant to reduce the risk of wildfire on the preserve. Bear Yuba Land Trust hired licensed foresters from Bella Wildfire and Forestry Services to do the work at a cost of about $30,000.
The trail was closed for three weeks intermittently for public safety during the first phase of the fuels reduction project while crews used heavy equipment and chain saws. Large piles of slash will be burned later this fall. Native grasses will be planted over the next few years.
This project will benefit the entire ecosystem, said BYLT’s Stewardship Program Manager Erin Tarr. Aggressive invasive species dominated the forest understory, creating an unnatural environment that reduced species diversity and out-competed native plants, she said.
“With that much woody debris in the understory, fire could climb to the crowns of the trees and destroy everything,” said Tarr.
By removing invasive plants and overcrowded dead manzanita, crews greatly reduced the risk of catastrophic wildfire threatening forest life and residential neighborhoods, Tarr said.
By removing blackberry and broom, the understory is dramatically opened up, and the large trees become more prominent, mimicking historic landscapes where animals can move more freely on the land.
“Years of fire suppression and mismanagement on this land have caused an unnatural situation to develop,” Tarr said. “Our Proposition 40 Grant from CalFire and Placer County RCD has allowed us to properly restore the land over the next three years.”
Besides invasive species, overcrowded native manzanita and other trees were thinned and limbed to increase forest health. The project includes herbicide spraying of sprouts for at least two years to control re-growth.
“This is not only a requirement of our grant funding but is also the only way to ensure these invasive species remain at bay,” Tarr said.
Pockets of intact vegetation will remain, as well as standing and fallen dead snags, to provide wildlife habitat. Bear Yuba Land Trust remains committed to the well-being of local wildlife populations and will continue to monitor wildlife patterns with strategically placed wildlife cameras, the release states.
“Many times, there is a misconception that leaving a place untouched is the best management for wildlife. When an ecosystem is overrun by an invasive species, this is not the case,” Tarr said.
Himalayan blackberry provides a food source and a shelter for some animals, but many times, these are the most common or invasive animals, according to the release.
Birds and rats benefit mostly from this type of cover. Returning the landscape to a more open understory with pockets of cover encourages a more diverse group of animals to use the land. Predatory birds are able to hunt more easily, and larger mammals can move more freely and hunt in a more natural setting. Since the fuels reduction work, Tarr said she has spotted red-shouldered hawks in the open forest.
Visitors are encouraged to keep dogs on leashes while at the preserve to avoid disturbing animal dens.
In the future, Tarr said she would like to work with local school groups to build bird boxes and other nesting areas. With no aggressive weeds to compete against, native blackberry and raspberry will thrive on the land once again, Tarr said.