DAVIS, Calif., Nov. 16, 2017 – The Mariposa office of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Mariposa Resource Conservation District (MRCD) outcompeted dozens of projects from larger offices across California and will receive the Outstanding Conservation Planning Team Award for 2017. The NRCS/MRCD team is being recognized for helping more than 270 landowners faced with a Tree Mortality Crisis caused by millions of dying trees that created heightened potential for devastating wildfires and deteriorating watershed and forest health conditions.

The work the team did has been credited with halting the approach of the Detwiler Fire last July before it reached the town of Coulterville.  “Because of the work done by the team, fire crews were able to stage in areas where NRCS/MRCD projects were implemented, allowing fire fighters to contain and stop fires. This not only prevented further destruction from the fire but enabled huge savings in reduced fire suppression costs,” said Curtis Tarver, Acting state conservationist for NRCS in California.

“What this team has accomplished borders on the miraculous,” says Tarver.  “They somehow developed the capacity to help hundreds of landowners and secured funding for 102 of them. They developed conservation plans that prescribed thinning of damaged forests, replanting trees and other vegetation, and scheduling erosion control practices to protect the soil and water of the watershed.”

“These treated areas will regenerate well, in contrast to areas where no treatment was done that burned with greater intensity and will require more intensive restoration,” said State NRCS forester Chris Zimny.

In 2014 the tiny office of three people—none of them forestry professionals—found itself at the epicenter of the tree mortality crisis declared by Governor Jerry Brown.  The crisis was caused by twin pressures of drought and extreme insect damage. Hundreds of local landowners found themselves with dead and dying trees that threatened not only the watershed’s trees, soil, water, and wildlife but also the homes, businesses and dreams of landowners in the small community.

“The team, led by NRCS District Conservationist Robyn Smith and RCD President David Mecchi, pulled out every strategy known to humankind, and a few that aren’t,” said Tarver. They found a contract forester to join the team, recruited volunteers, wrangled funding, secured training to cover unfamiliar aspects of the work and developed a team approach to conservation planning where everyone took on a specialty or two—like entering applications, gathering needed maps, doing environmental reviews or whatever they knew or could learn.

“We know the people in this community, and saying ‘no’ to one of them simply wasn’t an option,” said Robyn Smith.  “We knew we had to find a way.”

“Conservation planning is the foundation of our service to customers throughout the state,” said Tarver. “In this case the Mariposa team used conservation planning as an organizing opportunity to help landowners inventory and understand their damaged natural resources and choose scientifically sound options for landscape improvements.”

The award was presented this week during the 72nd annual California Association of Resource Conservation Districts’ conference in Sacramento, Calif. The three-day conference brings together leaders in on-farm conservation to discuss relevant topics, issues and priorities for the coming agricultural season. NRCS is a key supporter of the annual conference. More about their annual conference can be found at http://www.carcd.org/annual_conference0.aspx     .