A Call for “Second Responders” to the Rim Fire

As I sit and write in Sonora CA, the thermo-cumulos clouds from the Rim Fire continue to spew smoke throughout the Sierra.  As they do, the effectiveness of the first responders from 48 States and the money spent to fight the battle ($100 Million so far) are apparent:  Highway 120 has re-opened and individuals in surrounding communities are beginning to breathe a collective sigh of relief as they head back to school and work. Rimfire3

Living in such close proximity to one of the largest wildfires in California history has allowed me to witness firsthand the overwhelming support and appreciation for the first responders: From free haircuts to gratis massages to donated meals, I am so proud to be a resident of Tuolumne County and to see signs of hope in the midst of this tragedy. I have struggled in finding my own way to say thanks to the first responders for their tireless work and to best respond to the crisis myself. I have settled that the best “thanks” I can give is to add my energy to efforts that ensure our communities take serious action to improve forest management, fire prevention, and watershed restoration.  We have a moral obligation to learn from this event and develop a model for future forest management.

I have been asked by friends and relatives how I remain hopeful and encouraged as many of my favorite swimming holes, hikes and hidden places have been forever altered by this event. The main reason is that I work for Sierra Business Council: an organization that has experience in wildfire habitat restoration, watershed management, biomass utilization and forest management. Much like the ecosystem in the forest post fire, SBC is poised and ready to dig in, set roots and grow and strengthen partnerships in the Sierra to build a large, comprehensive, informed, inclusive and collaborative response to the Rim Fire.  

During evenings filled with the thick smoke and constant helicopter noise, reading updates from individuals and from local area organizations keeps my spirits up and hope alive. Dialogue from community members on blogs, in print, and on social media have provided a positive counterpoint to the barrage of raw statistics like acres lost, millions spent, and structures destroyed.  For example, the Mariposa Tuolumne Phoenix Project Facebook Group, which just started on August 26, already has well over 900 members.  As the first responders continue their fantastic work towards full containment, the call for second, third and future responders to the Rim Fire is loud and clear. The work of accessing the damage, salvaging timber and restoring watersheds and habitats provides educational opportunities as well as much needed economic activity in the region. Forming swift acting coalitions that can cut red-tape around regulations for timber salvage while simultaneously attracting informed scientific experts to a comprehensive and well managed forest recovery effort is a large task that will take a community. 

In our downtown Sonora office, conversations often start with a new picture of the blaze and a morose feeling of loss, but typically wind up with an enthusiastic round of new connections between local people and organizations ready to lend their expertise and take immediate action. 

I want to keep this conversation going.  Please add your name to the Phoenix Project Facebook Page, as well as to SBC’s email list (link) and Facebook page so that you can participate and stay informed. 

Perhaps the most thought provoking quote I have heard in the responses online is :  “The forest you are planning is the forest of 7 generations from now.”   

Image courtesy of Reuters