The Cambrian

Cambria's precious stand of Monterey pines fights to survive

A drive up Bridge Street from East Village reveals trees in various stages of growth, and death. Some are entirely bare, while other formerly green branches have turned brown.
A drive up Bridge Street from East Village reveals trees in various stages of growth, and death. Some are entirely bare, while other formerly green branches have turned brown.

What can be done about the high percentage of dead and dying trees in Cambria’s native stand of Monterey pines?

That’s a topic to be discussed when the San Luis Obispo County Fire Safe Council, meets in Cambria at 9 a.m. Wednesday, March 18. Council members want to hear about and discuss the critical condition of Cambria’s forest, which is being substantially diminished and threatened by drought, disease and bug infestations.

The public is encouraged to attend the session. 

Dan Turner, retired county fire chief and the council’s business manager, said in a March 10 phone interview, “I’ve watched this forest for 45 years, and conditions are as bad as I’ve ever seen them. The prognosis doesn’t look good. The forest is dying rapidly.”

The meeting at the Veterans Memorial Building, 1000 Main St., is to be streamed live and videotaped to view later, both on AGP/SLO-Span, Channel 21. It will include a presentation about the drought and the forest’s extreme fire conditions. Fire-prevention and 

resource-management experts will use a panel-discussion format to hear from the public, review information and answer questions. 

Fire Safe members and others recently attended presentations given by Cal Poly fire ecology students. The students had studied the forest, according to Mark Miller, chief of the Cambria Fire Department, who said some of the studies’ conclusions were alarming. 

Previous forest-mortality estimates, which had identified a possible loss of 40 percent of the forest, are now as high as 80 to 90 percent in some areas, according to recent Cal Fire spot surveys. 

“It doesn’t take a forester to figure out this is a really volatile situation,” Miller said.

Fire Safe Council members are among the many who are sharply concerned about increased fire danger the next year of possible drought might bring to Cambria, as dying and dead trees and brush become fuel for wildfires and so-called “interface” blazes, where homes meet and intermingle with the forest.

It’s a worry that’s been discussed many times at meetings of the Cambria Community Services District, Fire Safe Council, Cambria Forest Committee, Friends of the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve (FFRP), Greenspace — The Cambria Land Trust and other groups. 

It’s frequently been suggested that CCSD or another local group host a fire-awareness/forest management meeting to inform the public about the potentially critical situation, but no date has been set for such a meeting.

There is a Cambria Forest Management Plan, but money has never been allocated to implement the measures the plan includes.

In such lean financial times, there aren’t a lot of options, Miller said, and the solution may be “nothing short of going to FEMA,” the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is an action the Cal Poly presenters recommended.

Cal Fire, Fire Safe Council, FFRP, the forest committee, Greenspace, Beautify Cambria and Cambria Fire have banded together to prepare a series of grants worth about $3 million. 

An application for a $460,000 grant made it through the first cut and is being reviewed for the final decision, Turner said. Decisions on the others haven’t been announced yet.