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Back to Blodgett

My first time at Blodgett Forest Research Station was Thursday July 22, 2021. Not a significant date in any other way, but easy to remember (and verify in my camera roll) due to the circumstances of my arrival. That summer I was attending Forestry Camp at UC Berkeley in Meadow Valley, CA when my class was forced to evacuate on Sunday July 18 as the Dixie Fire grew, threatening communities in Plumas County. It was the weekend and we weren’t in class, in fact some students weren’t even in town when the evacuation order came. Four other friends from camp and I had made a trip to Truckee, enjoying a nice weekend lunch in town when we got the call. Fire personnel had arrived directly at camp to make students aware of the order. We all scrambled to coordinate through group texts and calls on spotty service with our class and instructors.

We drove back to Meadow Valley to evacuate our belongings but were stopped by emergency personnel, only allowed through after explaining the situation and showing proof of a friend’s Firefighter Type II qualification. Flinging the car doors open, we all moved with a purpose, scrambling for 10 minutes (phone timers on) to gather all our belongings, or at least what was important. We still tease my friend for having time to pack a bag exclusively full of shoes they brought to camp. Eventually we convened as a class at Plumas County Fairgrounds in Quincy. That's where we would call home for the night, and possibly many more nights. No one was sure at the time what would happen next.

At Forestry Camp you have a bed, Wi-Fi in Zivnuska Hall, and a kitchen staffed with folks who make breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It’s a 100-year-old tradition in Meadow Valley that forms the backbone of field-based curriculum in Cal’s forestry program. This makeshift camp was quite a difference.

As the week went on and the fire updates came, the decision makers decided that infrastructure and access to a forest was needed. So my class got in cars and drove three and a half hours south to stay at Blodgett and finish our final weeks of Forestry Camp. That first week at Blodgett was also the first time I met Kestrel Grevatt, a GrizzlyCorps Fellow (2020-21) serving with Berkeley Forests and working at Blodgett. Overall, it was a time of anxiety and stress — but I would go on to cement some of my closest friendships and most treasured college memories.

Plumas County Fairground where Forestry Camp 2021 temporarily stayed after evacuating from Forestry Camp in Meadow Valley.

The sun in the sky at Blodgett Forest around 0900 on August 6 2021. The AQI was 476 (PM2.5) as reported from a PurpleAir sensor in Georgetown CA.

I have thought about Blodgett often since leaving in late August 2021. I started my first GrizzlyCorps fellowship that next month in September 2021 — in fact the reason I applied for GrizzlyCorps was to have the chance to work with Blodgett and Berkeley Forests. That didn't pan out. But this past month I was able to finally have my GrizzlyCorps service (official GrizzlyCorps cohort training) at Blodgett. On a two-day forestry field trip we learned forest stand measurements, an introductory history of forestry practices in California, and how practitioners are using fire on the landscape. Our cohort was hosted by Kestrel, now an Intern Forester at Berkeley Forests, and Ariel Rougton, Research Stations Manager at Berkeley Forests.

Like Forestry Camp, our first part of the day started inside with a lecture before taking a hike through the woods. Our first lecture was an introduction and history of forestry. Ariel lectured on how the European settler framework of natural resources started out as a fully exploitative model, evidenced by clearcuts with no ecological considerations. Later this framework developed into an administrative model that valued rules and regulations. As forestry progresses it is resembling more often the place-based stewardship of Indigenous people in California. Sadly, natural resource professionals were, and some continue to be, complicit in the attempted genocide of Native people in California. As the field progresses to somewhat resemble these practices we have to double down to not extract or appropriate Traditional Ecological Knowledge or tokenize Native people.

Blodgett has been an experimental research forest for decades so it is the perfect place to see the differences between treatments. All the lectures in the world don't compare to the tangible sensory experiences of walking through a stand. Out in the field we talked a lot about what it would take to put fire on the ground in disparate stand conditions. My personal favorite paradigm that Blodgett champions is pyrosilviculture, which at the stand scale is defined as using fire directly to meet objectives or altering silviculture treatments to promote prescribed fire (North, 2021).

Day one was complete, I made memories with a new group of peers. Filling up the tables at Main House for meals made me nostalgic, I’m sure I told the same stories of camp many times over that weekend. A thousand apologies to my fellow Fellows for being “that person.” I had been looking forward to this field trip for weeks but being back at Blodgett was more stimulating than I anticipated. And while I love geeking out about forestry and fire as much as the next person, the field trip left me feeling emotional. It was an all too personal reminder that I will be seeing the impacts of fire and forest management up close for the rest of my career.

See, I had been evacuated to the safety of Blodgett nearly two years prior because of one of the biggest wildfires in California history. But only six months before our field trip Blodgett was hit by the biggest California wildfire of 2022, the Mosquito Fire. The second day of the field trip involved viewing the fire effects on Blodgett property, comparing treatments and talking about how this now high-severity burned area may be used as demonstration for managers and forest landowners. Our cohort used California Tree Sticks and increment borers to measure the stands impacted by the fire. Being one of the first groups to be given a demonstration on the land was humbling.

Given my experience at camp, I can only imagine what those in Georgetown were feeling during the Mosquito Fire and after. My thoughts go out to everyone impacted by the Mosquito Fire. As I reflect a few weeks out from the trip, I can see how resilient the folks in this space are. Those that work to steward our lands are expected to mitigate high severity fire in the face of climate change and a century of fire-suppression, to be there to respond to wildfires as resource advisors and local knowledge experts, all while living in the communities impacted by said wildfire.

I do not mean to center non-native natural resource professionals, as Indigenous People have lived in California and stewarded the land since time immemorial even when forcibly removed from their traditional homelands. Grief may be felt in every community but our histories are different. When we come together to talk about feelings of being overwhelmed we ought to extend this space to Indigenous people in California. I mean this in very tangible ways. As an example, this could look like giving funds to tribal communities to host their own classes on climate anxiety or develop other resources. Ask the communities what they want and need!

I used to think it was darkly ironic that my class was the first ever evacuated in the history of Forestry Camp — we are studying forestry and megafires in the age of climate grief after all. Like most people in the environmental sector, I chose this field to make a positive difference — a nebulous term even to myself. That was my thought when I went back to school at least. Even now, I feel more calloused to the environmental impacts I see in my professional life. The options seem binary, scroll your pending doom or do your best not to care.

I returned to Blodgett for the first time since being an evacuee to see high severity effects on this land that has been managed by some of the most forward-thinking folks in the field for decades. All that and the fire still didn’t care, it seemed like nowhere was safe. But Forestry Camp land was never directly impacted by the Dixie Fire, and all of our class was safe that summer. So maybe I can start viewing that evacuation as a gift to help me explore feelings of anxiety, grief, and significance. More and more I feel my work is a responsibility to the land and the next generation, which are not separate things. If that’s true then I must undertake a struggle to put all these feelings to use, to at least not let them stop me from my responsibility.

Me trying to figure out how to use an increment borer again, aided by Kestrel Grevatt (background).

GrizzlyCorps Fellows hiking through the snow to reach the area burned by the Mosquito Fire.

Citations: North, M P; York, R A; Collins, B M; Hurteau, M D; Jones, G M; Knapp, E E; Kobziar, L; McCann, H; Meyer, M D; Stephens, S L; Tompkins, R E; Tubbesing, C L. 2021. Pyrosilviculture needed for landscape resilience of dry western United States forests. Journal of Forestry. 119(5): 520-544.

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