The county Fire Safe Council has received a $498,736 grant to decrease greenhouse gas emissions in Cambria, money that also will help combat a looming public-safety hazard posed by an aging, drought-stricken 3,200-acre forest filled with dead and dying Monterey pines and other trees and brush.
The grant, announced first at the Cambria Fire Safe Focus Group’s Oct. 14 meeting by the council’s business manager Dan Turner, is one of several that could help ease the fire threat in Cambria’s neighborhoods and wildlands, all of which interlace with the forest.
According to fire officials, about half the forest’s mature trees are dead, having succumbed to bark beetle infestations, extended drought and record-setting daily high temperatures.
Various council members, governmental officials and others, including Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian and Supervisors Bruce Gibson and Frank Mecham (who is president of the Fire Safe Council), gathered at the County Government Center in San Luis Obispo on Oct. 15 for a ceremonial passing of a giant check representing the grant.
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In the meantime, there’s lots more activity behind the scenes and on the ground in Cambria, all of it designed to make the forest healthier and safer for people who live and move within it.
Turner and others have applied for numerous grants designed to help diminish Cambria’s fire risk, which has been a priority issue for the Fire Safe Council and Focus Group this year.
At press deadline, officials were waiting anxiously to hear whether their bid for $1.3 million (another greenhouse-gas reduction grant) had made the cut. That and the $498,736 grant are from the state Air Resources Board Cap and Trade auction proceeds, administered through Cal Fire.
According to a council news release, “combined, the two grants will significantly reduce the hazard (in Cambria), help prevent a catastrophic forest-and-wildland urban-interface fire and stimulate healthier forest growth in order to reduce greenhouse gases.”
As Turner told focus group members, “The ultimate goal of all the grants is to restore a healthy forest” to Cambria.
And how do greenhouse gases come into play? Cut trees would be converted into usable lumber, compost, shavings, chips and biomass for electric generation. It’s anticipated those actions would sequester carbon, slowing decomposition and reducing the release of greenhouse gas.
The forest also is in the running for a third grant. The $250,000 Western State Foresters Wildland Urban Interface grant has advanced to the second level in the highly competitive process.
Turner said that means the state “ranked our project high enough to be one of only four submissions” from California in the competition that covers 17 Western states. He said he expects a decision on the grant in early 2016.
Council and focus group members say they also hope the county will be able to file for disaster mitigation funds based on the president’s recent statewide disaster declaration because of recent catastrophic wildfires.
Some of those funds can be given to agencies outside the burn areas, but to apply, an agency must have a local hazard mitigation plan (LHMP).
Cambria Community Services District has begun working on its plan, with Cal Poly research work being funded by Cal Fire. But in the meantime, the CSD would have to rely on the county to apply for the funds, because the county has an approved LHMP.
In the meantime, work continues on several other projects designed to reduce public hazards from dead and dying trees. After all, a tree doesn’t have to burn to hurt someone, restrict access or damage a structure or vehicle. A dead tree that falls can do all of the above.
On Oct. 15, crews from SLOmow were cutting brush and chainsawing big logs into smaller chunks. They were preparing for Ventana Engineering of Carmel Valley to start work Monday, Oct. 26, Turner said.
Ventana crews will chip logs, limbs and piles of wood and brush stacked in the fuel-break area around Cambria Cemetery and to the west of Bridge Street.
Turner said Oct. 20 that SLOmow has finished its work on Fiscalini Ranch Preserve near the wastewater treatment plant and in the fuel break area.
Earlier Oct. 15, Cal Fire forester Alan Peters and Tim Radecki of North Coast Tree Service went along the fuel break area and around the cemetery, using pink ribbons to mark other dead, hazardous trees that need to be topped or removed.
Much of the current work is being paid for with $67,500 from a PG&E grant to the Fire Safe Council.
The grant work had to be complete by the end of October, Turner told the focus group.
Other portions of the projects are part of Cal Fire’s maintenance of the fuel break. Cal Fire and California Conservation Corps crews have been cutting trees this summer in the Northampton and Bridge Street areas, whenever those crews were not fighting fires.
Approximately 190 trees have been removed on Fiscalini Ranch and 38 on other CCSD-owned properties, under an emergency county permit that was to have been officially received and filed Thursday, Oct. 22, by the county Planning Commission.
Private landowners also are removing dangerous trees through an expedited county process that allows removal of up to six trees that Cal Fire has designated as dead and hazardous.
Through the end of the year, no county fee will be charged for that process in lieu of the “land use authorization” that normally costs $126 for three trees, with an additional charge for up to three more trees. However, each landowner accepts liability for the removals and must pay to have the tree(s) taken down and the wood removed, chipped or processed.