Nothing makes work go more smoothly and productively than a good, unified team effort. Teamwork is a topic I have always espoused as essential. This is never truer than in our own exceptional line of work – tree work!
Beyond the crew cohesion is our safety culture, in which we recognize we are our brother’s keeper, and the value of the shared comradery of our unique trade. What if the whole thing became a community effort? I am fortunate to share our recent experience working in the Forest Ranch community in Butte County, California. That is exactly where our work became a great, collaborative team and community effort!
Before I describe this highly favorable experience, let’s backtrack in time. We need to go back to the tragic event that led to the accelerated pace of the fuel-reduction efforts here in Northern California. This is where we have been doing tree work for the past five years.
The Camp Fire
In November 2018, 85 members of our community and the town of Paradise lost their lives in the Camp Fire. Named after Camp Creek Road, its place of origin, the Camp Fire was the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California’s history, and the most expensive natural disaster in the world in 2018 in terms of insured losses, according to Wikipedia.
The fire severely impacted some of our crew members, some of whom lost homes, suffered injuries or lost loved ones to the inferno. For these affected communities, this was when the reality of wildfire impact really hit home. The need for expanded vegetation-management programs that span many jurisdictions and involve many tree companies and tree professionals became even more apparent.
As firefighters fought the flames, the fire ravaged the area. It all but completely destroyed the entire town of Paradise, making international headlines. On the next ridge over, north of the town of Paradise, sits the community of Forest Ranch. Forest Ranch was at great risk during the initial Camp Fire firefighting efforts. Just outside Forest Ranch and ascending from Chico, parts of Highway 32 burned on both sides of the road. Fortunately, authorities called an evacuation order, and the community remained evacuated for almost a month.
Resistance to management programs
Surprisingly, even after an event such as the deadly Camp Fire, some residents of California have – in the name of forest conservation – remained opposed to fuel reduction and vegetation management.
When communities expand into nature, building homes in heavily forested areas, atop and along ridges, the need for vegetation management also expands into these areas. This is to ensure power and transportation infrastructure are protected in the event of wildfire, and access for firefighters and evacuations is not diminished. Vegetation management also helps reduce the potential for fires in the first place. Those interested in tree preservation often overlook the value of fuel-reduction programs.
Not so in Forest Ranch.
Teamwork and appreciation
Fortunately, again, the flames from the Camp Fire never reached Forest Ranch, and not much more than some smoke damage affected some Forest Ranch properties. Still, the close call from the event remains forever etched in the minds of Forest Ranch residents. For this reason, the community has welcomed the post-Camp Fire fuel-reduction projects instituted by the State of California.
Our organization has been fortunate to be one of the many tree companies involved in these state- and FEMA-funded fuel-reduction programs in these areas and mountain communities such as Forest Ranch.
Residents have been seeing huge numbers of their local trees trimmed or altogether removed. Work has been going on for days or weeks on end in some cases. Drivers have dealt with traffic-control delays. They have been funneled through work buffer zones, navigating through tree-work signage. They have put up with all the inconveniences such work imposes. All this can often be enough to make the
already-undervalued work seem more like a detriment. It’s not worth the hassle to some residents.
Value and necessity
Granted, the tree work is at no cost to residents, since it is needed for the protection of energy and transportation infrastructure. And it is part of the forest management for the overall safety and often beautification of these communities. But, ultimately, as stated earlier, the value and necessity of the work being performed is so often missed.
But not in Forest Ranch. The value and necessity of forest-management work in their community did not go unrecognized. So what was so different about Forest Ranch? Forward-thinking leadership in a community is key to improving the overall sentiment toward vegetation-management endeavors.
In September 2022, work began alongside California Highway 32 near and around Forest Ranch. Stephen “Tank” Konstenius, Ph.D, is a well-known Army veteran, local business owner and Forest Ranch resident. He also is president and co-founder of 40 Plus LEAP (Learn, Engage, Act, Process) VETS Veteran Equipment Trading Post Store in Forest Ranch. Konstenius quickly became involved and engaged with our tree crews working in the area.
Here are some of the fruits of this collaboration between tree crews and the people of the community of Forest Ranch.
Much of the wood salvaged from the tree trimming and tree removals will be used to raise funds for veteran organizations and needy veteran families. In other cases, items such as picnic tables and chairs will be made for use in various parks and community rest areas.
The logs – cedar, pine and fir – will be manufactured into lumber, kindling for firewood, etc. A sawmill crew with the 40 Plus LEAP Veterans Work Cadre Project, affiliated with the 40 Plus LEAP store, will cut much of this wood into various lumber products to make picnic tables, patios, retaining walls, etc. This project will provide work for veterans and other individuals in the Forest Ranch community.
Gunnar Anderson, president and CEO of Viking Logging of Oroville, Calif., receives sub-contracting work from the company I work for, P31 Enterprises Inc. Anderson and his crew perform specialized and technical tree felling for P31. They remove all logs and undergrowth deemed potential fire hazards or hazardous for local and semi-truck navigation through this area on Hwy 32.
Luncheon and gifts
The 40 Plus Leap Veterans Work Cadre Project and the Forest Ranch Community Council provided a barbecue with burgers, chips, cold drinks and more to the workers from P31 Enterprises Inc. and Viking Logging. The Veteran Equipment Trading Post also invited all workers to select a pocket knife from the store free of charge.
Military service and veterans assistance
Konstenius and his wife, Amanda Konstenius A.Sc., a registered nurse and certified notary public, operate the 40 Plus LEAP VETS Veteran Equipment Trading Post Store. This certified, veteran-owned small business and California Partnership provides diverse services to veterans and their families. This includes job placement, job training, DD214 corrections, application for disability, etc., as well as emergency housing when needed.
It takes a village, as the old adage says. People often don’t understand the forest-management component of tree work. We hope, as an organization within our trade, to help make an impact, not only beautifying community-bordering forests and making forest communities safer, but also benefiting the environment by following environmental best management practices, respecting the local wildlife and helping preserve healthy community forests for future generations. This can happen with teamwork and collaboration when these opportunities arise.
Carlos Ramirez, CTSP and ISA Certified Arborist, is in charge of field-site safety with P31 Enterprises Inc., a TCIA member company based in Oroville, Calif.
Steven ”Tank” Konstenius, Ph.D, president, CEO of 40 Plus LEAP; Shaun Sinegar, 40 Plus LEAP store manager; and Tamara Behr, business service representative at Alliance for Workforce Development, Inc, in Chico, Calif., contributed to this article.