3 years after launch, Reno-based defensible space company thriving

Wes Hansen is CEO and owner/operator of Reno-based Wilderness Forestry Inc.

Wes Hansen is CEO and owner/operator of Reno-based Wilderness Forestry Inc. Courtesy Photo

Wes Hansen, owner of Reno-based defensible space company Wilderness Forestry Inc., is currently doing a job for a client in Truckee who wants to create a buffer between their home and the flammable brush and vegetation surrounding it.

The reason: They don’t want to lose another home.

“Their home burned down in Napa, and they want to make sure to take care of it in Truckee,” Hansen said. “They’ve already been through it, and they don’t want to go through it again. They are 100% on board with doing everything necessary to take care of their home.”

Hansen said Wilderness Forestry has served many homeowners with similar stories over the past few years as wildfire seasons continue to escalate in the region.

Hansen launched his business in 2018 with his wife, Erica, who serves as CFO, in response to that year’s wildfire season in California, which scorched more than 1.9 million acres, damaged or destroyed more than 24,000 structures and led to at least 103 deaths in the Golden State.

“I bought a skid steer with a mulching head, and me and my old man just started doing small jobs,” said Hansen, a graduate of the University of Nevada, Reno. “I started really getting some work in Truckee because I saw a need. I noticed there wasn’t really much in the way of mulching machines up in Truckee. So, I captured that market, and I just ran with it.”

Three years later, Hansen’s business venture has taken off. Now, family-owned 
Wilderness Forestry serves the greater Reno-Tahoe area with 12 employees and six machines.

Moreover, the company has gone from small jobs to “larger, selective thinning projects” on parcels ranging from one to 40 acres, taking down an average of 40 to 70 trees per acre, Hansen said.

Wilderness Forestry gets about 60% of its business from California and 40% from Nevada, Hansen said. The company mobilizes crews as far away as Napa and Mammoth in Northern California to Elko in Northern Nevada.

Since launching in 2018, Wilderness Forestry has tripled its revenue and number of clients every year, Hansen said.
“I came in at the right time, I bought the correct machines, and I filled the right niche,” Hansen said. “With all the fires, people have been very nervous.”

It’s been especially nerve-wracking the past two years. The 2020 California wildfire season was the largest in the state’s modern history with nearly 4.4 million acres burned, according to CAL FIRE.

Meanwhile, as of early September 2021, wildfires have already consumed about 2 million acres in the Golden State, and one could argue the nearby Caldor Fire has become a stark reminder that few places in the West Coast may be immune to the risk of burning.

On Aug. 30, more than two weeks after it was ignited dozens of miles away, the fire lurched over the Sierra Nevada at Echo Summit and pushed toward Lake Tahoe’s south shore.

Days later, with the fire burning a few miles just south of the city of South Lake Tahoe, thousands of residents in the city and in nearby Nevada communities were evacuated, though many of those orders were lifted in the past week. 
Still, more than 900 buildings had been destroyed as of Sept. 6, when the fire was at roughly 45% containment.

Meanwhile, the Dixie Fire, the second-largest blaze in California’s recorded history, continues to burn northwest of Reno in Plumas and Lassen counties, among others. As of Sept. 7, the 922,000-acre blaze had destroyed nearly 700 homes and was nearly 60% contained.

“Right now, we have communities burning up,” said Bill Steward, health and safety officer and inspector at Wilderness Forestry. “Basically, we could go in and help and do a lot of mediation before the fire gets there.”

Homes particularly vulnerable are those with old shake shingle roofs, as well as those that have brush and other fuels coming right up against the property, Steward said.

“Those embers landing in there add to the house fires,” he said. “And then when the houses catch on fire, it's a domino effect.”

To that end, Steward said Wilderness Forestry, along with providing defensible space services, can perform inspections to help homeowners get insurance coverage.

“You can say your house had a defensible space inspection done and take that information and send it to your insurance company, instead of somebody sitting in a cubicle looking at your house from Google Earth and saying, ‘no, we’re not writing that policy,’” he said. “So, insurance is a big issue, and that’s something that I think will just continue to be an issue for homeowners.”


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