More money pours in for Rim Fire recovery

By Alex MacLean / The Union Democrat

The Rim Fire's Burned Area Emergency Response team received an additional $4.3 million for watershed recovery projects, the U.S. Forest Service announced Friday.

Team Leader Tom Beddow said the additional funding received Friday will allow the Stanislaus National Forest to finalize a work plan and begin projects to prevent erosion and runoff on slopes between 35 and 55 percent.

The BAER team, composed mostly of Forest Service employees and scientists, was brought in after the historic wildfire scorched 402 square-miles of land in the Stanislaus National Forest and Yosemite National Park.

The team is tasked with identifying and completing "stabilization treatments" in erosion-prone areas, to decrease possible impacts to human life and safety, property and critical natural and cultural resources, like historic buildings.

Recovery efforts began Sept. 30 after the BAER team completed a damage assessment report and received $4.2 million in federal funding. The bulk of that money went toward road and trail recovery, including projects to restore drainages and culverts.

Some of the money also funded efforts to clear fire fuels, remove noxious weeds, clear hazard trees and put up cautionary signs for public safety.

As of Friday, the BAER team had completed some of the projects on its checklist, and made some significant progress on others.

According to the last update, BAER crews have already cleared all hazard trees that were threatening cultural resources and installed the necessary route markers and public warning signs, gates and barricades.

Crews also have finished 38 percent of drainage restoration work, 12 percent of road repairs, and were well on their way to completing all of the needed erosion control, trail stabilization and hazard-tree mitigation measures.

Over the weekend, work would continue on clearing hazard trees along priority roads, cleaning out ditches and culverts, and creating more water bars and rolling dips, according to BAER team spokeswoman Anna Payne.

"We have crews out there dispersed in different zones working on roads and trails, while other groups work on protection and safety measures," Payne said on Friday. "They were moving quickly on removing hazard trees last week but hit some dense areas that slowed them down. We're hoping to be done with everything in the next couple weeks before the first major storms hit."

Payne said the storms last week that temporarily closed all three mountain passes in the area didn't hit the spots where crews are working as badly as it did in the high country.

The team will continue working "until the work is done or the weather doesn't allow us to work anymore," Payne said.

Payne added that it will be important for residents of communities below the burned watershed to be diligent this winter because of the increased risk of flash flooding and mudslides. She advised people to monitor local weather forecasts, public safety bulletins and road closures.

The Union Democrat
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