Cambrian: Opinion

Downed trees may require temporary trail closures on Fiscalini Ranch Preserve

Some trails may be off-limits temporarily on the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve Forest Loop while trees and brush are cleared away.
Some trails may be off-limits temporarily on the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve Forest Loop while trees and brush are cleared away. Special to The Cambrian

This year’s drought and heavy winds took a great toll on the beauty of our forest on the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve. Efforts taken to reduce the risk of wildfire and improve the overall health of the Monterey pine forest by cutting dead, dying and hazardous trees have left debris ranging from giant logs to the finest little tree branches littering the forest floor. Trees, blown over by the wind, blocked the hiking paths. The Cambria Community Service District ranch manager and crew cleared the trails so that they could be used but left slash alongside that could be a fire hazard if not cleared.

Fortunately Friends of Fiscalini Ranch Preserve (FFRP) obtained a minor use permit (MUP) from San Luis Obispo County to help correct the situation, and Cal Fire offered crews to do the work.

Unfortunately, trails in the popular Forest Loop may be subject to temporary closures in the future; the project schedule is somewhat tentative. The work to clean up debris and improve forest health in three test plots was planned to start June 6, but may have started as early as May 31. The work may have already begun due to changes in the schedules of Cal Fire crews. They can be called away at any time to fight fires during this (very) dry season on the Central Coast. Signs will be posted at the Ranch advising walkers of trail closures in the forest.

Preproject monitoring and surveys were conducted including Monarch butterfly surveys, plant surveys, a nesting bird survey and a survey for dusky-footed woodrat nests (believe it or not, they are a California Species of Special Concern). Any impacts to identified sensitive species will be avoided, either by keeping a distance from them or scheduling work for a later date.

Fortunately, wonderful wildlife abounds on our preserve; nesting great horned owls and juncos were found, along with many woodrat nests. The rare saints daisy was also found. Finding these in a relatively small area is a good indicator of healthy living conditions for wildlife on the Ranch. The Ranch was preserved in large part to protect its biological resources and one of the key features that visitors enjoy on the Ranch is wildlife, so ensuring its safety is important.

Our main test plot project is designed to improve the overall health and resilience of the forest over the long term by thinning crowded stands of stunted trees to provide sufficient light, moisture and nutrients for the healthiest trees to thrive. All plots have lots of downed wood on the ground. All three plots will be thinned of unhealthy and overcrowded trees. Each of the three areas will be treated differently and the results monitored to see what method would be best for treating the larger forest in the future.

One plot will have thinning with the debris lopped and scattered on the ground. Another plot will have downed wood chipped and left on the ground or used to line trails. The third plot will have the woody material piled to burn in the wet season. This would require monitoring by Cal Fire along with permission from the Air Quality Control Board and the perfect conditions for safety. Each plot will be monitored to see how the area recovers and will be compared to the others — and to plots where no intervention has taken place.

Clearing the forest floor of the tangle of woody matter left over from cutting hazardous and dead and dying trees will be another project. It will follow on the heels of the test plots and be more focused on reducing fuel loads and clearing out the tangle of logs and branches littering the ground. CCSD has contracted with Ventana Forestry to remove as much as possible of the remaining piles of wood left from the emergency permit project last winter and making the forest not only safer but more enjoyable.

Jo Ellen Butler is executive director of Friends of the FiscaliniRanch Preserve. RanchUpdate appears in The Cambrian monthly. Contact FFRP at ffrpcambria.org, 927-2856, or P.O. Box 1664, Cambria 93428.

Gathering in the Garden

Friends of the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve will present “A Gathering in the Garden” from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 11, in the Cambria Nursery Gardens at 2801 Eton Road, Cambria. Tickets are available at the Cambria Chamber of Commerce and at the door: $20.

Spend the evening strolling through the nursery after hours. Enjoy the sweet harmonizing vocals of Mary Schwalbe on acoustic guitar and Ron Perry on keyboard playing a variety of music, including some piano originals by Perry. Sip fine wines and savor appetizers, catered by Suzy Siegler and Becky Kincaid. Fine wines and other exciting items will be raffled during the evening.

The fundraiser supports the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, a 437-acre public open space in the heart of Cambria. Details: 805-927-2856 or email ffrpcambria@sbcglobal.net

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