Firebreak plan gets approval

Cal Fire’s controversial fuel break around Cambria was approved Friday by San Luis Obispo County’s Planning Department. The fire agency has said “a fully intact forest” will remain.

If nobody appeals the decision during the 14-day appeal process, a permit could be issued in about three weeks, according to Cal Fire Forester Alan Peters. If an appeal is filed by Dec. 30, the issue would go to the Board of Supervisors.

Cal Fire’s final environmental assessment of the project was released earlier this month. The agency made few changes other than additions to its draft environmental document.

The final report states that, while trees, shrubs and brush will be removed during the clearing process, plenty of prime specimens of all sizes of native species will be left in the protected forest stand.

“A fully intact forest will be retained including trees of all sizes,” according to the report. The forest will include pines and oaks from seedlings to pole-size trees, and mature shrubs such as toyon and Manzanita.

The proposal to remove some of the dense fuel for fire from the boundary between neighborhoods in the northern and eastern parts of Cambria Ranch by the Sea has drawn a lot of conflicting opinions, as evidenced by the turnout of people who wanted to speak at Friday’s hearing.

The fuel break — an area in which the thick Monterey pine forest would be thinned to reduce the likelihood that fire would spread from area neighborhoods to the forest or from the forest to the town — would be done on part of the 1,465-acre Cambria Pines By the Sea Ranch. The forested areas of that ranch are covered by a conservation easement held by The Trust for Public Lands.

Cambria’s native Monterey pine forest is one of three such stands on the U.S. mainland and five in the world.

If the Board of Supervisors approves the project, and that decision is appealed, the California Coastal Commission could have the final say.

Commission staffers already are on record as wanting changes to the project, some of which could be game changers for Cal Fire, which has grant and other deadlines looming.

Among other issues in dispute are the width of the fuel break, how Cal Fire would prevent the spread of invasive plants, maintenance and the method of clearing.