Tubbs fire zone landowners felling dead trees, thinning brush to protect Santa Rosa-area creek

An extensive restoration project in the Tubbs fire zone along Mark West Creek will remove some dead trees and seek to improve the forest’s health by culling smaller trees and shrubs.|

Dark skeletal trees cover the slopes along Mark West Creek as it snakes through the Mayacamas Mountains north of Santa Rosa - a drainage scorched by the Tubbs fire two years ago.

“It came through very hot,” said Lynn Garric, who’s lived for 35 years on a 40-acre tract west of Calistoga Road. “Everything was black after the fire.”

The blaze also destroyed her home, a cottage and a private bridge that provides access to her property. More than half of the trees - oaks, firs, madrones and buckeyes - were killed.

Now, thanks to a $1.4 million state Department of Fish and Wildlife grant obtained by the Sonoma Resource Conservation District, young workers with chainsaws are felling dead timber on Garric’s land and an adjoining 120 acres owned by her neighbor, Karen Arroyo.

The project, which started Monday - a day before the Tubbs fire’s second anniversary - and will take two years, will remove standing fuel in a high-risk fire area and improve the forest’s health by culling smaller trees and shrubs.

“It gives the trees more space to grow,” said Aaron Fairbrook, an RCD program manager.

A work crew from the Conservation Corps North Bay, wearing pale green hard hats and dark green T-shirts, felled trees on a slope, cutting them in chunks and stacking them in 4-foot-high piles that will be burned during wet weather.

On the steepest canyon slopes, the dead trees will be cut into 4-foot chunks and scattered on the ground. Large trees will remain in place, affording wildlife habitat.

“Birds like dead trees,” said Valerie Quinto, executive director of the RCD, a local government agency formed in 1946 to assist private landowners in conserving natural resources.

Standing on a curve in the road named Henry’s Horseshoe, after her father, Garric pronounced it all good for the creek below, officially designated a high priority for preservation as a spawning stream for endangered coho salmon and threatened steelhead trout.

“That’s why everybody’s here,” she said. “It’s such a pristine creek. We really want to take care of it.”

Nearly 3 miles of Mark West Creek runs through the Garric and Arroyo properties, which adjoin a future 1,200-acre county park, and the creek ultimately flows into the Laguna de Santa Rosa and onto the Russian River.

Garric, who grew up along Calabazas Creek in Glen Ellen, has an affinity for the creek where her own children played. Every landmark on the property has a name, she said.

Her new home, built on the site of the old barn, will be finished in a month.

Before the fire, Garric and Arroyo had been working with the RCD on rainwater capture off their roofs, then shifted to landscape regeneration after the roofs - and everything underneath - were destroyed.

The project includes improvements along more than 3 miles of dirt roads, repairing culverts and building erosion control features designed to reduce sediment flow into the creek.

The aim is to protect gravel nests, called redds, where female salmon and steelhead lay their eggs, from sediment that suffocates the eggs as well as clogs the gills of adult fish, Fairbrook said.

Another benefit of the project is training in natural resources jobs for young adults in the Conservation Corps.

“Yell your cut!” crew supervisor Alexis Garvin-Boggs of Sebastopol shouted to a worker, who promptly shouted “Back cut!” a safety warning referring to the third and final chainsaw cut that topples a tree.

“It’s nice to be working outdoors, knowing I’m doing something that’s good for the environment,” said Garvin-Boggs, happy to have left behind jobs in food customer service and also taking natural resources courses at Santa Rosa Junior College.

Lunch breaks in the woods are fine, Garvin-Boggs said. “Just sit around and look at the scenery - meditate.”

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com.

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