Cambrian: Opinion

Thinning out Fiscalini Ranch boosts forest health

Test Plot 3 looks a lot different after the report.
Test Plot 3 looks a lot different after the report.

Walking the Forest Loop Trail, it is hard not to notice the amount of work that has been done to improve the health of the forest. As you walk, what you begin to observe is what is no longer surrounding you — dangerous trees overhanging the trail, huge log jams and debris on the forest floor, overcrowded stands of spindly trees, numbers of dead, damaged or diseased trees and invasive plants such as French broom and different kinds of thistle.

It has been more than a year since Friends of the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve initiated work on four one-acre test plots in the forest. Funding for the test project came from the San Luis Obispo County Fire Safe Council and was matched in kind by FFRP staff and volunteers and Cambria Community Services District facilities staff.

The first post-project monitoring report for the test plots that were treated in 2016 was completed in July 2017. In the report, we found that the result was just what we had hoped for:

With more spacing between trees, more light has gotten through the canopy, and the removal of woody debris not only allows new seedlings to find purchase in the soil, it has created space for the return of understory plants that help support wildlife on the Ranch. In most areas there has been a phenomenal regeneration of both Monterey pines and Coast live oaks, with tiny seedlings showing their tops everywhere. In many areas blackberry and poison oak are coming back, along with yarrow and the rare saint’s daisy. We will be watching to see what else benefits from the project. What is in those plots now looks very healthy, happy and natural.

The results of the monitoring report have encouraged us to go forward with other small projects to improve forest health. The first of these involves removing blue gum eucalyptus and other invasive plants from a section of the native pine and oak forest that abuts Huntington Road. After listening to public input, it was decided not to cut the older eucalyptus and to limit the project to trees 18 inches at breast height and under.

The first phase, removing the eucalyptus saplings, French broom and thistle has been completed. Next will be trying to eliminate German, then later removing eucalyptus up to 18 inches. Then we will be planting Monterey pines and understory plants. The largest eucalyptus trees will be left to live out their lives in place.

The next two projects will involve thinning overcrowded Monterey pines. The first is in an area near the Dolphin Bench that was planted too close together at our first few Thanksgiving weekend plantings around 13 years ago. We were new to tree planting then and didn’t allow enough space for them to remain healthy as they grew larger. Thinning the grove will allow the trees more space and give us room to plant understory species that will create a more balanced ecosystem.

The second will be to expand one of the areas worked on last year and will continue with the thinning of trees and removal of debris that was so successful in Test Plot 3. These new areas will be monitored along with the previous projects. In this time of climate change, it is our goal to maintain our forest, a precious resource, so that it will thrive and be here to enjoy, forever.

Walk and brochure

For a more in-depth discussion of the health of the forest and the test projects, come join Kim Corella, Cal Fire Forest Health Specialist and Alan Peters, Cal Fire Unit Forester, for a walk Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017 from 10 a.m. until noon. Reservations are required and can be made by phoning 805-927-2202 or online at

The next time you walk the Ranch, look for our beautiful new brochure, which includes an updated trails map of the preserve. It will be available soon at the Ranch entrances and at our office, 604-D Main St., Cambria.

Jo Ellen Butler is executive director of Friends of the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve. Ranch Update appears quarterly and is special to The Cambrian.