As a hub for innovative land management practices, California State University, Chico’s Ecological Reserves are committed to leading the way in fire mitigation and education. And in partnership with the Terra Fuego Resource Foundation and the Butte County Fire Safe Council, the University has received two grants from Cal Fire to support projects at the Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve (BCCER).

The BCCER and Terra Fuego Resource Foundation are collaborating on a $304,406 grant from Cal Fire to reduce fire fuels on 254 acres within the Reserve. Fuels will be reduced through manual thinning and prescribed burns. Terra Fuego implements landscape level restoration, conservation and risk reduction to improve the health of forest ecosystems.

“This project incorporates land considered to be very high-risk areas according to fire hazard severity zones and will result in creating a defensible protection for the surrounding communities, including Chico, Forest Ranch and Cohasset,” said BCCER Manager Eli Goodsell.

Prescribed burns are an important tool for fire mitigation and habitat improvement, and ongoing fire fuels management has been implemented at the University’s ecological reserves over the past 20 years. Grants allow these activities to scale up while providing protection and education for the surrounding communities, Goodsell said. Through continued community and agency support, BCCER plans to increase large-scale mitigation and forest health initiatives conducted on the property.

As part of this grant, an additional 322 acres on the reserve will have California Environmental Quality Act evaluations completed in order to permit future on-the-ground projects.

Additionally, in collaboration with the Butte County Fire Safe Council, which provides community fire-safe resources, the BCCER received a portion of a $166,983 grant to incorporate fire prevention and mitigation education into the Ecological Reserves Outdoor Education Program.

“Through the Outdoor Education Program, the ecological reserves provides a hands-on, outdoor classroom opportunity to over 1,300 K-12 students a year,” Goodsell said. “As part of this generous grant, students will be educated on the historical role of fire in a healthy ecosystem and the practices that the BCCER is utilizing to mitigate future wildfires.”

When applied to a specific area, in the right environmental conditions, prescribed fires achieve beneficial outcomes. It can reduce dangerous accumulations of combustible fuels, resulting in areas that are damaged less and are easier to control during a wildfire. The reduction in combustible fuels increases access for wildlife, and the new plant growth provides opportunities for a variety of species. And by burning at certain times of year, prescribed fire can control invasive species while encouraging native plant growth.

Owned and operated by the CSU, Chico Research Foundation, the BCCER encompasses 3,950 acres of land along 4 1/2 miles of Big Chico Creek and is host to exceptionally diverse ecosystems. Since its creation, the reserve has provided students and visitors with opportunities for hands-on experiences with nature while being a hub for innovative research and land management best practices.