American River Watershed Institute
Fire Safety Project | Pilot Project

Ecosystem Sensitive Project Implementation Methods

The Colfax Community Watershed and Fire Safe Ecosystem Project was designed to have minimum negative impact on the ecosystem, and wherever possible, was intended to have a positive effect on the ecosystem. Both project design and the techniques selected were elements of this approach.

Project design of shaded fuel break is designed to mimic nature. Fire suppression has removed fire from what is in natural conditions a fire ecosystem, with fire return every 3-15 years. Native American cultures used fire extensively, reducing fire return to every 2-5 years. A shaded fuel break is designed to reduce fuel loading, much as a natural fire would do. The results are intended to be an enhanced forest ecosystem.

Mastication was chosen as the preferred technique, together with hand crews and chipping where masticators were not feasible. Mastication basically grinds the fuel loaded forest (up to 8 inches in diameter) and brush into a chipped mulch that is spread over the forest floor. These chips protect soil from erosion, and become soil nutrients as they break down over several years. Chips are pressed into the soil from the action of the masticator tracks. Because chips are in contact with soil, breakdown is accelerated compared to natural processes. The fire danger from the spread materials is diminished radically, to flame lengths that can be addressed with hand crews. (See examples with before and after photos.)

Three different masticators were used: two smaller track machines, one with a rotary mower head and steel tracks, and one with a drum-style "flail mower" head with rubber tracks, and one very large industrial masticator built on a timber harvest, steel tracked excavator body.

Hand crews with chippers were utilized where masticators were not feasible. The results of hand thinning and chipping are similar to mastication, with even less impact from heavy equipment. These methods are compared in the Final Grant Report (PDF*, 5.2 MB).