Cambria services district directors will consider approving an emergency permit from the county that would provide a streamlined approval process for individual property owners to remove up to 1,000 trees that Cal Fire has identified as being dead.
The meeting starts at 12:30 p.m. Thursday, July 23, at the Veterans Memorial Building, 1000 Main St.
The permit, which county and Cambria Community Services District officials have been trying for some time to finalize amicably, would include a waiver of liability that property owners would have to sign; waive the permit costs of $126 per tree; but require the landowners to replace the removed tree(s) at a later date.
The permit would be valid for a three-year period, but removals authorized by it would need to start within 90 days of the permit’s issuance. However, according to the document, removal of one tree on any lot within 60 days of the permit issuance will vest the document.
The district must submit a tree replacement plan in the application for the regular coastal development permit that’s being required by the county, but much of the data for that plan can come from documents each property owner must submit.
In March, district directors reacted to fire threats from a four-year drought and declared an emergency condition because of the extreme risk of a catastrophic blaze. District and other officials have been seeking ways to help landowners reduce fire hazards, and district staff has coordinated removal of dead trees from CCSD properties. About 190 hazardous trees have been identified on Fiscalini Ranch Preserve alone, and their removal would eliminate those threats to trails and public areas on the preserve, as well as to homes around the property’s boundaries.
The permit is the latest among many efforts to reduce the load of dead trees in the 3,000-acre native stand of Monterey pines and coast live oaks, thereby reducing the danger of a crippling wildfire during the fourth year of drought.
Drought? But what about the recent, rare July rain-and-lightning storm on the 19th?
The dousing may have helped some still-healthy area trees and plants for a little while, and water levels in area wells may rise somewhat temporarily, according to water purveyors and fire officials. But an inch or so of rain barely touches the local impact of the drought, especially if weather becomes hot, dry and windy.
And it made things worse for some ranchers, according to Dawn Dunlap, who said summer rain leaches the nutrients out of grass on grazing land.
Robert Lewin, fire chief for Cal Fire, the county and Cambria, wrote in an email interview Tuesday, “We are in for the long haul on this. This is not a one-fire-season issue. It will take years of effort to manage all of the dead trees.
“In the short term,” he said, “we need to be ready for a fire through personal and communitywide planning. We need to reduce the potential for ignitions, and we need to maintain a defensible space around our homes and businesses.
“In the midterm,” Lewin continued, “we need to remove the dead trees in areas that can add to the potential for a damaging fire. And in the long term, we need to work together on developing a plan for a safe and healthy forest, so we are not reliving this experience when the next drought occurs.”
As to whether the rain will spur growth of weeds and grasses that could necessitate additional trimming, cutting and hauling away, he advised that “maintaining a defensible space around your home requires maintenance. In California, wildland fires can occur year-round. We have had wildland fires in this county along the coast in the winter.”
Even with the heavy downpours, “on Monday following the rain we had a ¾-acre fire near Harmony.”
While most people welcomed the precipitation, Lewin added, “don’t be lulled into feeling that the rains last weekend changed the fire severity. We still have dead material that will dry out quickly. We all still need to be ready.”
For other items on the CCSD board’s agenda, go to www.cambriacsd.org.