The Cambrian

Fire safety the priority as State Forestry Board members tour North Coast

Members of the State Board of Forestry and Fire Protection took an all-day tour of various sites, including four on the North Coast, as part of a rare three-day visit to the Central Coast.

Board members and about 30 members of the public saw the results of and learned about such topics on the July 17 tour as fuel breaks, the wildland-urban interface where homes meet or interlace with the forest and ecological restoration on each stop, according to William Hollingsworth, chief of the Cambria Fire Department.

Alan Peters, Cal Fire forester in this area, said the Board’s usual focus is forest-management and timber issues in the more heavily forested parts of the state. So, this workshop/tour day was a definite change for them.

It had been about 17 years since Board members came to this area, according to officials at a recent Cambria Fire Safe Focus Group meeting. “It was nice to get them down to the coast and focused on fuel-treatment projects,” Peters said.

All the North Coast areas on the tour agenda were in the state’s Coastal Zone. They included:

• Coon Creek trailhead in Montana de Oro (topic, prescribed burn techniques).

• Estero Bluffs (topic, prescribed burning).

• Harmony Headlands (topic, prescribed burning).

•San Simeon Pier for lunch, (environmental topics)

• Bridge Street (topic, fuel break)

• Cambria Pines Road (topic, wildland-urban interface and the Leimert fuel break).

Board members ended the day with a quick confab with Fire Safe Council members. They had held meetings the day before and day after at Cal Poly.

The agency “develops the general forest policy of the state ... to protect and enhance the state’s unique forest and wildland resources,” according to the Board website.

The Board “is charged with protecting all wildland forest resources in California that are not under federal jurisdiction, which include timber stands, areas for parks and recreation, woodlands, brush-range watershed and all private and state lands that contribute to California’s forest resource wealth.”

The Board has been the lead agency in developing environmental-impact reports for the CalVTP for California Vegetation Treatment programs such as prescribed burning, mechanical treatments, manual treatments, prescribed herbivory (using animals such as goats to control weeds) and applications of herbicide.

The public comment period for that report ends Aug. 9.

As the report’s summary states, “Climate change has created a new wildfire reality for California. The state’s fire season is now almost year round.”

The summary continues, “The proposed CalVTP directs implementation of vegetation treatments within the SRA to serve as one component of the state’s range of actions to reduce the risk of loss of lives and property, reduce fire suppression costs, and protect natural resources from wildfire.

“The Board acknowledges that vegetation treatments, alone, will not solve the wildfire crisis. The state’s response to the wildfire crisis involves multi-faceted strategies. The Board also acknowledges that, given the current severity of fire hazards in the SRA (state responsibility area), vegetation treatments may not be able to slow or halt extreme wind-driven fires. However, most fires that occur within the state are not highly wind driven and the proposed vegetation treatments can help slow and suppress them. Vegetation treatments can also play a valuable role in containing the more extreme fires, when weather conditions shift, wind subsides, and fire intensity decreases.”

Dan Turner of the San Luis County Fire Safe Council said of the CalVTP and the recent meet-and-greet with the Board that “the greater obstacle for any owner of forested properties who wants to manage those forests” is the possible overlapping and/or conflicting rules between the Coastal Act and the CalVTP. “That chilling effect may encourage them not to do anything, and then the forest is going to suffer.

Under current regulations, “you have to get a coastal development permit to do forest management,” he said.

“Our concern is what’s going to happen in forest management and hazard fuel-reduction projects in the Coastal Zone?” Turner said. “We don’t want to find property owners in the coastal zone hamstrung between regulations, having to decide which one they’re going to violate and ‘who’s going to fine me.’”

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