The American River Watershed Institute's Community Demonstration Project was funded in part by the Sierra Nevada Alliance through a 319h grant from theUnited States Environmental Protection Agency pursuant to Agreement No. C997204-02-0 to address Non-point Source Issues in the watershed. Placer High School, the Tahoe National Forest-American River Ranger District, and the Placer County Resource Conservation District were additional cooperators in this project.
The Community Demonstration Project was conceived during conversations between the ARWI board and Rich Johnson, who at the time was District Ranger in the American River Ranger District (ARRD-formerly the Foresthill Ranger District). Ranger Johnson suggested that, in the wake of the Star Fire of 2001, ARWI develop a photo-documentation project to track the forest's recovery, especially in light of the fire-fighting and forest restoration activities of the USFS.
ARWI has renovated, and maintains and operates a "dam-keeper's" cottage adjacent to French Meadows Reservoir. The building was originally constructed as part of the Middle Fork Project by Placer County and the Placer County Water Agency. The building was sold to the USFS and the USFS has established a Special Use Permit with the Placer County Resource Conservation District, passing though the restoration, maintenance, and operation of the site to the American River Watershed Institute. This education and research facility sits in the middle of the Star Fire footprint and is a logical place from which to study the fire and other aspects of the watershed.
Sediment is the pollutant of concern in the Middle Fork American River. Sediment-loading of waterways typically occurs following wildland fires. Direct Measurement of sediment delivery to a watercourse is accomplished by a variety of field techniques. Ranger Johnson suggested that an ARWI field course, offered in cooperation with the local Placer Union High School District and Sierra Community College, be designed to indirectly measure the potential for sediment to be dislodged from the forest floor, and thus be available for transport to watercourses.
Discussions and field trips to the Star Fire with ARWI and USFS scientists identified general forest "burn" categories that are evident to the eye and that would serve as reference sites for the photodocumentation project. Three sites were identified:
Sites that were easily accessible by public and forest service roads, that were in short driving distance from the French Meadows facility, and that were safe for student teams to photograph, and for visitors to hike, were chosen with advice from the USFS-ARRD.
Picking the actual photo-locations was done using a randomizing selection process. It was decided not to establish landmarked photo points because restoration work was ongoing; posts and tree-medallions would interfere with the work. So,general areas alongside the access roads were selected, along each of which a one hundred meter tape was stretched. Randomly selected points along this tape were selected to run another one hundred meter tape at a right angle, out into the timber stand, alongside which the ten photograph points were (again randomly) selected.
The photographs are standardized one-quarter square meter areas photographed with a four megapixel camera from a height adequate to capture the entire quadrate. Ten sites were selected for each transect. Multiple transects were photographed by different teams of the students enrolled in the school courses. Five of the ten photosites are of only the forest floor. At the alternating five sites, the forest floor was photographed, as was the canopy directly above the site. At the fifty-meter mark along each transect, photographs were made in the cardinal (magnetic) directions.
The selection of the photopoints in each forest-burn-type thus vary from year to year, but thereby capture the nature of the forest and the forest floor in such a way as to reduce subjectivity.
Successes of the project include
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