In the wake of November’s devastating Camp Fire, California State University, Chico’s Ecological Reserves partnered with Cal Fire, Firestorm, and Terra Fuego to conduct a 70-acre prescribed burn at the Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve (BCCER) in recent weeks. This event was held to reduce wildfire fuels, overgrown understory, and fallen wood materials, like logs and branches, and generated an opportunity for wildfire professionals to further their experience, share information, and participate in land management efforts on the BCCER.

“We have to double down on our fire mitigation, education and research efforts,” said BCCER manager Eli Goodsell (MA, Environmental Policy and Planning, ’11). “Now more than ever, it is imperative that we prepare the next generation of land managers, policy makers and fire professionals to become stewards of our landscapes and protect our communities.”

The BCCER has been using prescribed burns as a way of reducing fire danger and teaching students about resilient ecosystems for more than a decade. The reserve is home to 15 different vegetation communities, ranging from oak woodlands and mixed conifer forests to grasslands and chaparral, making it a prime spot for training on different wildfire environments.

Chico State students helped take part in prescribed burns at the University’s Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve.
Photo by Jason Halley

The BCCER utilizes a variety of methods to reduce fuels and promote forest health. In addition to prescribed burns, land management practices include hand crews, fuel reduction equipment, and small pile burns. The BCCER has also recently partnered with Capra Environmental Services Corp., a company that provides goats as an environmentally friendly and sustainable way to manage vegetation, brush, weeds, and to help mitigate wildfires. The herd of 490 goats has helped clear over 40 acres of vegetation, and also served as an unplanned source of entertainment for BCCER staff and visitors.

Don Hankins, a professor in the Department of Geography and Planning, leads the prescribed fire research efforts at CSU, Chico. Hankins has been in high demand as of late, featured in high-profile publications and appearing in national media outlets following the Camp Fire. From the fall 2018 issue of the University’s alumni magazine Chico Statements and the San Francisco Chronicle to CNN and NPR’s Blue Dot, Hankins’ expertise has been called upon for further insight into the wildfires that have burned in California, what the future holds for the state, and what can be done to prevent such disasters.

The community surrounding the BCCER benefits from the educational opportunity and land management practices taking place at the reserve.

“We are extremely fortunate to be living on the ridge with the Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve stretched out below us…” said Forest Ranch resident Margaret Martin. “Reserves manager Eli Goodsell tirelessly promotes good fire mitigation projects for the reserve for fuel reduction, for forest health, and the safety of our surrounding community. We are appreciative of all their hard work and continual efforts to keep us all as safe as possible.”  

Owned and operated by the CSU, Chico Research Foundation, the BCCER contains 3,950 acres of land, 4 1/2 miles of Big Chico Creek, and exceptionally diverse ecosystems. Since its establishment in 1999, the Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve has provided students and visitors with opportunities for hands-on experiences with nature and continues to be a hub for innovative research and land management best practices.