Cambrian: Opinion

Grant funds spark hope of implementing Cambria forest plan

About 15 years ago, a diverse group of Cambrians and other stakeholders began hammering out the structure and goals of a plan to provide long-term ecosystem management for our local Monterey pine and coast live oak forests.

Brought together by the Cambria Forest Committee, the group included such diverse members as Greenspace — The Cambria Land Trust, the Cambria Community Services District, the California Department of Fish and Game, California Department of Forestry (Cal Fire), SLO County Board of Supervisors, the Nature Conservancy, Cambria Design Committee, Cal Poly and UC Berkeley scholars and a member of the California Academy of Sciences.

It was not an easy process — different players had conflicting ideas about how the forest should be managed and whether it should be managed at all. Issues of public safety, forest health and private landowners’ rights were raised in sometimes contentious discussions.

In the end, a very important document was produced by the group and the consulting firm of Jones & Stokes. Published in 2002 and approved by both the CCSD and the county, The Cambria Forest Management Plan (CFMP) outlined a program founded on three principal goals:

Goal 1. Improve forest health and maintain biological diversity, consistent with the Forest Management Plan and applicable laws, policies and regulations.

Goal 2: Reduce hazards to life and property, consistent with the Forest Management Plan.

Goal 3. Maintain and enhance aesthetic values of the forest, consistent with the Forest Management Plan.

The plan stresses balance among forest ecosystem health, reduction of hazards to people living in the forest, and preservation of its natural beauty, which has drawn people to this area for generations. The CFMP philosophy is to manage the forest by mimicking the effects of such natural processes as weather events and fire but without the danger to residences or businesses. The plan’s emphasis in the residential and commercial parts of the community is on safety and aesthetics, while the open space and wildland focus is on forest health, protection of native plant species, and preservation of intact habitat for wild animals and birds.

The plan would establish a conservancy, special district or nonprofit with a board of directors to manage the implementation; hire a full-time forest ecologist to serve as Forest Manager; establishing forest units, each made up of coherent vegetation and terrain characteristics; and select and apply appropriate treatment protocols to return each unit to healthy and safe conditions.

Recommended treatments range from simple removal of invasive plants and “fire ladders” of partially downed trees and dead slash, to extensive dead and diseased hazardous tree removal, depending on the condition and urban or wildland location of the unit. The CFMP is intended to cover the entire forest, providing management for public lands and assistance to private landholders. Other subsequent plans created for specific parts of the forest are largely based on this original document.

The CFMP was meant to be a blueprint for forest management and restoration processes — it was written to withstand and adapt to changing times and a changing community. The Monterey pine-coastal live oak forest today is different than it was when the plan was conceived, but the need for effective, ecologically sound management is greater than ever, and the plan provides a path to that goal.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? At this point, perhaps you are asking, “So, what happened? I don’t see a very healthy forest out there, or a coherent management system.”

The problem has been with implementation. The plan is still with us — you can find the full text on the websites for Greenspace or the Cambria Forest Committee. However, public entities have been very slow to adopt and fund it. Now that the forest is in crisis, concerned groups are taking a new look at the CFMP.

Recently, the San Luis Obispo County Fire Safe Committee, of which our local Focus Group is a part, received a $498,000 grant from Cal Fire’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund. A portion of this grant will be used to hire a forest ecologist/forester and to work with local stakeholders to establish forest units and treatment plans for public, conservancy or land-trust properties in the Cambria-San Simeon area.

The hope of everyone involved with our Monterey pine forest is that this funding will provide seed money for a long-term management program based on sound flexible planning. Implementing the CFMP will restore the local forest’s health, head off further damage from pitch canker and bark beetle invasions and increase public safety.

In the meantime, Greenspace and the Cambria Forest Committee encourage you to read the CFMP online and think about the local forest as a diverse entity, requiring flexible management rather than a “one size fits all” approach.

Parts of the forest are still healthy, and even in some areas where trees have died from drought, blight and beetles, new seedlings and young saplings are vigorous and green. In areas where both large trees and the understory are suffering, clearing dead and downed wood and replanting with asymptomatic seedlings can restore ecosystem balance and replace lost habitat.

Speaking of replanting, if you are replacing trees that you remove under the blanket county/CCSD permit, you can purchase Monterey pine or coastal oak seedlings — grown from asymptomatic seeds gathered locally — from Greenspace (927-2866). We will also plant your purchased seedlings on our land-trust properties if you are unable to replant on your own land.

Connie Gannon is executive director of Greenspace — The Cambria Land Trust. The Greenspace column appears quarterly and is special to The Cambrian.