With a mission to conserve, protect, and restore wild and working landscapes, the Mendocino County Resource Conservation District has several ongoing projects in North County. Acting Executive Director and Fisheries Biologist Joe Scriven described projects currently underway to improve water, soil and forest health.
Under an ongoing project, the MCRCD is responsible for managing the Willits Bypass Mitigation Land, which is approximately 2,000 acres that has been acquired by the state as mitigation for land taken. during the construction of the Highway 101 bypass. MCRCD has a team of professionals who manage and monitor the landscape.
Scriven said, “They are very active, 12 months a year, working with the local ranching community to manage the landscape and working with ranchers to achieve the goals of this agreement with Caltrans and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.”
An upcoming project will be implemented on Sherwood Road, MCRCD is working with two road networks and will put money on the ground for storm protection on unpaved roads. Scriven described a storm-proof road as one that could withstand a 100-year storm without failing; roads are shaped and modified to favor natural hydrology.
Instead of containing and confining water, storm proof roads promote water infiltration, which is the natural process and good for the aquifer, landscape, vegetation. Additionally, it promotes water infiltration into streams in the summer, restoring the natural hydrology of the stream system.
Scriven summarized the benefits, as dirt stays in the mountain where it belongs, water stays in the landscape longer as it infiltrates and reduces the energy of water entering streams, thereby reducing forces erosion in streams, as well as erosion on roads. He said: “It’s like this huge win-win. Because when we do that, road maintenance costs are reduced by 80-90%. The construction site should start this summer.
Also in Willits, MCRCD is working on a stream improvement project with Trout Unlimited to improve surface flow in Little Lake Valley streams, which are home to endangered Chinook, Coho and rainbow trout listed under the Endangered Species Act. Trout Unlimited is just beginning to work with staff from the City of Willits, and the project is in its early stages.
Scriven explained that over the past 30 to 40 years, many streams that had surface flow and year-round flow have become depleted and either have isolated pools or dry up completely. in the summer, for various reasons. This project aims to remedy this and provide year-round habitat for endangered native fish species.
In North Mendocino, the MCRCD has a large project in Piercy, the Forest Health Program grant under contract with Cal Fire. They work with Usal Redwood Forest Company and the Bureau of Land Management on approximately 1,300 acres. The long-term program includes fuel reduction, manual and mechanical thinning of additional biomass, chipping and controlled burns. There will be reforestation. The work at Piercy is just Phase 1 of the projects, which Scriven hopes to expand into surrounding areas, using local businesses, skilled laborers and contractors to implement the project.
He said, “That way the work gets done, is done by people who live in the neighborhood, the revenue generated stays in the county, and the people who live there will be able to participate in this project for years to come. Because the problem of forest health will not be solved in just a few years. Years of fire suppression and timber management complications have created overcrowded forests in many places, leading to catastrophic fires and other problems.
Phase 1 begins this year, with the long-term goal of returning the forests to a healthy state of pre-contact contact. Scriven explained: “Working towards this goal of healthier forests will have a cascading effect of improvement, from reduced catastrophic wildfires, improved wildlife habitat, improved stream flow, ‘water.”
The MCRCD is a special district of the state that secures grants and administers funds. They engage with consulting firms with a variety of expertise and also contractors to implement the project. Scriven explained, “We hire the contractor, manage and administer the funds and are basically responsible for putting the money on the ground to achieve these resource protection conservation goals.”
To learn more about MCRCD and the work they do across the county, visit https://mcrcd.org/ or join their monthly board meeting via Zoom. The agency started in Willits in 1945.