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Natural Resources Conservation Service, California, News Release

Encroaching Junipers Prove Powerful to Fire-Plagued Community

Dave Sanden (530) 527-2667 X 107
Ceci Dale-Cesmat (530) 792-5658

DAVIS, Calif., Aug. 29, 2012 – Twenty-one California ranchers in Lassen and Modoc Counties are among those in eleven states participating in a novel private-federal initiative to restore habitat for the imperiled sage grouse. The ranchers probably didn't realize that ridding their land of the encroaching, water-thirsty junipers would not only make their ranches healthier and help sage grouse, but might also give the local community a powerful boost during a devastating wildfire season.

Just one of the challenges from the numerous wildfires currently raging in rural eastern California, has been recurring power outages in the town of Susanville and the surrounding Honey Lake Valley area.  The Chips Fire (74,125 acres) burning in the Plumas and Lassen national forests, southeast of Lake Almanor, damaged PG&E power transmission lines in the Feather River Canyon, causing recurring power outages.

On Aug. 17, seeking a more reliable power source, Lassen Municipal Utility District switched to local power producer Honey Lake Power, a biomass/geothermal energy facility located in the town of Wendel, approximately 25 miles east of Susanville. The plant produces up to 30 megawatts of green energy and right now it is using a lot of juniper chips, removed as part of the Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI).

"Juniper from the Sage Grouse Initiative treatments is providing a big part of our biomass fuel supply this year," said Mark Schaffer, fuel supply manager for Honey Lake Power.  "I'd estimate that the juniper is providing 40 percent or more."

 "Our office would not be open right now if it weren't for the juniper chips," said Ceci Dale-Cesmat, District Conservationist for USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service in Susanville. Dale-Cesmat is also the conservationist who signed the contracts with the ranchers to remove juniper trees and make other landscape improvements that help sage grouse. 

"The ranchers and our partners in the Sage Grouse Initiative have been very excited about the progress we're making with the juniper treatments," said Dale-Cesmat." They are improving the condition of the range for both sage grouse and livestock, but I guess I didn't foresee the junipers becoming a source of local clean energy, providing jobs and literally keeping the lights on," she said. "This is definitely a win-win."

Since 2010, the Susanville office has contracted over 15,900 acres of active restoration under the SGI to benefit the greater sage grouse and the sage brush steppe landscapes they depend on for survival.  Fires have caused damage to some of the SGI project sites, although it's still too early to know the full extent.

"The Rush Fire has burned at least five potential 2013 SGI projects including sites for brood rearing, habitat restoration, and juniper removal." Dale-Cesmat said.  "Once the fires have settled and things get back to normal, we'll meet with our SGI partners and assess these and other projects to determine how we want to move forward."


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