February 18, 2021 – Gold Country Avian Studies (GCAS) and the South Yuba River Citizens League (SYRCL), both based in Nevada City, California, were awarded California State Parks Foundation (CSPF) Wildfire Resiliency and Prevention Grants on February 11, 2021.

Overall, $135,000 was awarded to 15 state parks and park partners to help parks recover from the devastating 2020 wildfires. The Wildfire Resiliency and Prevention Grant opportunity supports activities resulting in one or more of the following outcomes: assessment of fire impacts and climate threats to the park, risks to natural habitats, biodiversity, and parklands; restoration of the natural and built environments impacted by fires and other climate change events; preparedness for the real threat of climate change in parks; education that raises awareness of the impact of climate change and ways to engage in climate resilience activities.

“The 2020 California wildfires were horrifically destructive, and our beloved state parks have undergone devastating damage. There is a real need to restore fragile habitats and rebuild parks, while building climate resiliency to mitigate the impact of climate change,” said Rachel Norton, Executive Director of California State Parks Foundation.


Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus slevini) captured at Big Basin Redwoods State Park. (photo A. Nelson)

GCAS will receive $10,000 to study post-fire effects on a subspecies of the Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus slevini), a migratory songbird, in Big Basin Redwoods State Park (Big Basin). Allison R. P. Nelson, MS, Director of GCAS, studied Hermit Thrushes in the park in 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2020. She and coauthor, Nat Seavy, National Audubon Society’s Director of Migration Science, used geolocators to identify these birds’ wintering areas in western Mexico. Their peer-reviewed research is to be published in the upcoming issue of the Journal of Field Ornithology. 

In summer of 2020, the CZU August Lightning Complex Fire subjected Big Basin, which supports a high concentration of California’s coastally breeding Hermit Thrushes, to one of the worst wildfires in the state’s history. The fire burned at a time when Hermit Thrushes, including recently fledged juveniles, were preparing to depart for fall migration. In summer of 2021, Allison Nelson will be returning to the park – after the birds have arrived from their spring migration – to assess impacts that fires may have had on Big Basin’s Hermit Thrush population. This assessment will allow parks to appropriately plan for the protection of Hermit Thrushes and identify options for restoring the habitats they use. This research will be paired with genetic studies of Hermit Thrushes in Big Basin and other North Coast Redwoods State Parks to determine the distinctiveness of coastally-breeding Hermit Thrush subspecies.

“The Hermit Thrush’s ethereal song is an integral part of a visit to Big Basin and many of California’s other coast redwood forests. Male birds countersing with birds from neighboring territories, actually matching songs note for note. There’s really nothing like waking up at dawn to hear their magical songs echo through the park’s ancient trees,” says Allison Nelson. “Informed management of the species will ensure that visitors can continue to enjoy the presence of these unique birds during their State Park experiences. We are incredibly thankful to CSPF for making this work possible.”


Turbid water from Rush Creek entering the South Yuba at Jones Bar

SYRCL will receive close to $10,000 to provide funding for water quality monitoring in the areas impacted by the Jones Fire to determine how fire suppression techniques, including vegetation removal and the use of fire retardant, impact water quality in Rush Creek and the South Yuba River. The resulting data will help State Parks to better manage the potential negative impacts of fire suppression efforts, including algae blooms associated with increased phosphorous and ammonia from fire retardant and increased sediment in the river.

“In addition to informing fire suppression techniques, this new California State Parks funded research complements SYRCL’s 20 years of river monitoring data by allowing us to gather more in-depth water quality information at three long-term sites already established around Jones Bar,” said SYRCL’s Hydrologist, Karl Ronning, who will lead the water sampling effort.

Ronning has six years of experience conducting hydrological monitoring and guiding teams of citizen scientists to help gather valuable data for the Yuba watershed. California State Parks Foundation funding also allows SYRCL to conduct new work that will examine first-flush conditions—or the conditions right after the area’s first large rain events—to help find out how quickly the watershed can dilute elevated bacteria levels in the South Yuba.

California State Park Foundation’s generous grants to a diverse array of organizations, including GCAS and SYRCL, enable an examination of the impacts of wildfire and suppression techniques on a variety of habitats, animals, and waterways. Having so many groups with different areas of expertise be able to collect and analyze data with this funding will help California to better address the high-intensity wildfires that continue to be a persistent problem for the state.

About GCAS: Gold Country Avian Studies’ efforts focus on bird research, education, and conservation. GCAS studies long-term changes in bird populations in the Sierra Foothills through operation of a bird banding station in Empire Mine State Historic Park. This program was founded through collaboration with the State Park and Bear Yuba Land Trust and was initiated with a 2016 grant from CSPF.

About SYRCL: The South Yuba River Citizens League (SYRCL, pronounced “circle”) is the leading voice for the protection and restoration of the Yuba River watershed. Founded in 1983 through a rural, grassroots campaign to defend the South Yuba River from proposed hydropower dams, SYRCL has developed into a vibrant community organization with over 3,500 members and volunteers based in Nevada City, CA. See:  www.yubariver.org