Caples Creek Ecological Restoration Project

March 2022 -- The 2021 Caldor Fire

When the 2021 Caldor Fire hit the area of the 2019 prescribed fire in the Caples Ecological Restoration Project, the fire was significantly slowed down, according to CAL FIRE personnel. The Caldor Fire did not burn intensively in the region of the Caples area that was burned in 2019. While we await a formal report from the Forest Service documenting this benefit, it is clear that the treatments had a beneficial impact on fire severity within the Caples 2019 fire footprint. Prior prescribed fire treatments elsewhere within the Caldor Fire footprint were also shown to be a significant factor in preserving the forest surrounding Meyers, Christmas Valley, and South Lake Tahoe.

May 4, 2021

On Tuesday May 4th, the California Fire Science Consortium and USDA Forest Service Pacific Southwest Ecology Program hosted a webinar on Restorative Burning: Outcomes from the 2019 Caples Fire. Watch the recorded webinar here.  

May 11, 2020

The following documentation is provided by the U.S. Forest Service and contains post-fire analysis of the effects, and the events surrounding, the 2019 Caples Ecological Restoration Project prescribed fire. The fire, ignited on September 30, 1919, was burning as expected until extreme winds sent it out of prescription. On October 10th it was declared a wildfire, which allowed the agency to direct additional fire suppression/management resources towards containing the blaze. The fire was 100% contained on November 1, 2019.

May 11, 2020 Caples Fire First Order Fire Effects. Report by the Fire Behavior Assessment Team.

April 10, 2020 slide presentation given to the California Forest Management Task Force, Sierra and Eastside Regional Prioritization Group, by Scot Rogers, District Ranger on the Placerville Ranger District, Eldorado National Forest. 

April 2020: Caples Fire Review, U.S. Forest Service

November 2019: Caples Escaped Prescribed Pile Burn Facilitated Learning Analysis, U.S. Forest Service   

Link to RAVG data for information for Caples burn severity, soil burn severity after the Sept 30 -November 1 prescribed burn/wildfire.  Click "Build Query" and scroll down to Caples on the RAVG site. 

September 30, 2019

The Eldorado National Forest fire personnel began the second large prescribed fire in the Caples Creek watershed project area today. Preparation for the burn has been ongoing since 2017, with crews and volunteers working to clear fuels to protect individual old-growth trees, burn piling, and clearing on the north rim boundary for the burn. The plan is to burn 1,100 acres in an area that has not seen significant fire since 1908.

November 28, 2018

Prescribed burning continues in the Caples Creek Ecological Restoration Project. U.S. Forest Service Hotshots crew completed about 3/4 of the north rim control line burn piles. If the weather is good they may be able to do some jackpot burning in the lower watershed this fall as well.

November 2, 2017

Prescribed Burning Begins in the Caples Creek Ecological Restoration Project area

Yesterday USFS fire crews ignited the first stage of the 8,800 acre Caples Creek watershed prescribed fire proposed action, burning approximately 160 acreCaples Creek Prescribed burn Nov 1 2017s over two days, Wednesday and Thursday, Nov 1-2. Conditions for burning were almost perfect, with the first rains of the season following the fire on Friday. Sierra Forest Legacy's Craig Thomas was there, along with retired district ranger and the decision maker for the project, Duane Nelson. Both men have been long term supporters of the project. Also on hand were partners Dan Corcoran from El Dorado Irrigation District, and representatives from the Sierra Nevada Conservancy Chris Dallas and Ali Sambucetti.

All of us at Sierra Forest Legacy want to give a huge "Thank You" to the Eldorado National Forest for its commitment to this historically significant, and ecologically vital, project.

Eldorado National Forest Fuels and Fire planner Teresa Riesenhuber has put together a beautiful document for the project. You can download it here.

Read more about the project at the USFS Caples Creek project page.



May 5, 2017

Learn more about the proposed project, and download this informative slide presentation by Central Sierra Province Ecologist (USFS) Becky Estes:

Reconciling Expansion of Restorative Burning with Protecting Public Health from Smoke Impacts: Caples Creek Watershed Case Study

May 1, 2015

Caples Creek

The Placerville Ranger District (Eldorado National Forest) is implementing an ecological restoration project in the Caples Creek Watershed and Wilderness Study Area using prescribed fire on roughly 8,800 acres. It is anticipated that work will begin in the project area in the late summer and fall of 2015.

Caples Creek Proposed Wilderness is approximately 75 miles east of Sacramento off of Highway 50. Traveling south on China Flat Road at Kyburz for ten miles and you reach the Caples Creek Trailhead area near the Fritz Ranch Bridge on the Silver Fork of the American River. The Proposed Caples Creek Wilderness has many outstanding wilderness and wild and scenic river values and provides easy access for day hikes, fishing and backpackers alike. The remarkable scenery and excellent fishery make the area extremely attractive to recreational visitors from around the state.     

Key Attributes (courtesy Steve Evans): 

Scenery--The scenery is magnificent with much ecological variety to the landscape. There are large areas of glaciated granite interspersed with stringer meadows, springs, aspen groves and black cottonwoods following the two major stream systems. 

Major Streams--Caples Creek, Silver Fork American and North Tragedy Creek provide an active trout fishery with good summertime flows supporting rainbow and brown trout. They have very high recreational use reported at 30,000 recreational visitor days/season.

Approximately 10 miles on Caples Creek from the wilderness boundary downstream to the confluence with the Silver Fork of the American river has been determined to be eligible for Wild & Scenic River status due to the outstandingly remarkable fisheries and recreational values that exist. This stretch qualifies for wild river status--the most pristine classification. 

The Silver Fork of the American from where it enters the South Fork American upstream to where it joins Caples Creek in the proposed wilderness is also eligible for a "recreational" classification under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. These pristine streams have sections of fairly low gradient reaches moving to dramatic plunge pools and cascading waterfalls. The spring flows at snowmelt are truly spectacular with thundering whitewater crashing through granite boulders along the heavily forested stream banks. During the summertime flows the streams remain fishable and have abundant deep, cool swimming pools to escape the summertime heat.

Geology--glaciated granite outcrops abound throughout the proposed wilderness. There is also a unique volcanic formation between Caples and Silver Creek, south of Convict Meadow, with stunning spires and small caves imbedded in a pre-historic volcanic flow.

Cultural Resources--The Caples Creek Proposed Wilderness will protect important cultural sites of Native Americans including springs and major bedrock motor sites. There is also a historic Forest Service Ranger's outpost log cabin situated in the forest near Government Meadow.

Highlights of the Project

The area has not experienced active fire (the natural disturbance process that maintains resilience) since 1916. This extremely heavy fuel build-up (called fuel loading) is the result of a century of fire suppression. In this landscape, the historic fire-return interval for the mixed conifer forest was 11 years, and for red fir, 40 years. The lack of fire places many of the above resources at risk from uncharacteristic fire. Hence the need for a multi-year 8,800 acre burn project to restore fire back into the landscape. Fire exclusion and permitted activities such as grazing and unauthorized trails have placed meadows, aspen stands, and riparian vegetation at ecological risk. Conifer encroachment from fire exclusion has had severe impacts on 25 acres of remaining aspen stands.

The project will include rerouting approximately a half-mile of existing hiking trail that crosses through Jake Schneider Meadow to tree line

Hand cutting small trees and girdling larger trees encroaching into meadows (25 acres). Some of this activity over-laps the aspen restoration work.

It is interesting to recall that this area (the confluence of Caples Creek and the Silver Fork of the American River) was the site of a historic environmental struggle back in the early 1990's. A hydro-electric project, called the Foottrail Hydro, was proposed for this pristine roadless area that would have dammed the confluence of these beautiful streams (see photo above on the left). Fortunately, we were successful in halting the proposal, thanks to a huge public outcry protesting the proposal in a proposed wilderness and eligible wild & scenic river.

Further reading:

Caples Proposed Action

Caples Ecological Project Scoping Letter 5-1-15