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Group gets $1 million for Sonoma Valley fire prevention efforts

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Protected Wildlands Map

Cal Fire has awarded more than $1.7 million for wildfire prevention in Sonoma County, with the bulk of the money going toward a coalition working to reduce fire risk on public lands in Sonoma Valley.

The Sonoma Valley Wildlands Collaborative received more than $1 million, allowing it to conduct controlled burns, clear brush and thin forests. The newly formed group of private and public agencies oversees 18,000 acres of fire-prone areas along Highway 12 that include Hood Mountain Regional Park and Sugarloaf Ridge and Trione-Annadel state parks, which were burned in the Tubbs and Nuns fires.

“The areas that we’re talking about have a long history of fire,” said Tony Nelson, longtime Sonoma Valley program manager for the Sonoma Land Trust, which is part of the collaborative. “It has burned in the past and we know it will burn again. The vegetation is not going to stop growing, so we need to not stop managing our natural systems with fire, as well as (need to) maintain safety.”

The collaborative also includes state and regional parks, the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, Audubon Canyon Ranch and the Sonoma Mountain Ranch Preservation Foundation. The group is a product of discussions predating the 2017 wildfires that raced over the Mayacamas Mountains and left behind scorched ridgelines, charred trees and ashen soil. The firestorm renewed conversations on how to prevent large-scale blazes.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9512516-181/group-gets-1-million-for?sba=AAS

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Why your house may burn while your neighbor’s survives the next wildfire

Dale Kasler and Phillip Reese, THE SACRAMENTO BEE

The sky was turning orange and the embers were flying from the Camp Fire when Oney and Donna Carrell and Donna’s father sped away from their Paradise home.

“I thought, ‘Oh, well, the house is done,’ ” Oney Carrell said.

A few days later, they learned otherwise. The Carrells’ home survived the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history with a couple of warped window frames, a partially charred down spout and a stubborn smoky smell inside.

Most of their neighborhood was destroyed. A guest house in their backyard, where Donna’s father lived, was reduced to ashes, along with a couple of sheds. Yet their beautifully restored 1940 Studebaker sat untouched in the garage.

The arc of destruction the Camp Fire carved through Paradise was seemingly random: Why were some houses saved and others incinerated? As millions of Californians brace for another wildfire season, a McClatchy analysis of fire and property records shows the answer might be found in something as simple as the roofs over their heads — and the year their house was built.

A landmark 2008 building code designed for California’s fire-prone regions — requiring fire-resistant roofs, siding and other safeguards — appears to have protected the Carrells’ home and dozens of others like it from the Camp Fire. That year marks a pivotal moment in the state’s deadly and expensive history of destructive natural disasters.

All told, about 51 percent of the 350 single-family homes built after 2008 in the path of the Camp Fire were undamaged, according to McClatchy’s analysis of Cal Fire data and Butte County property records. By contrast, only 18 percent of the 12,100 homes built prior to 2008 escaped damage. Those figures don’t include mobile homes, which burned in nearly equal measure regardless of age.

“These are great standards; they work,” said senior engineer Robert Raymer of the California Building Industry Association, who consulted with state officials on the building code.

Yet despite this lesson, California may end up falling short in its effort to protect homes from the next wildfire.

Read more at https://www.sacbee.com/news/state/california/fires/article227665284.html

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Wiped out: America’s love of luxury toilet paper is destroying Canadian forests

Sam Wolfson, THE GUARDIAN

Link to report and sustainability scorecard for paper products

We’re all becoming more aware about the damage single-use plastics and fast fashion has on the environment. Yet there is one product we all throw away every single day that, so far, has not been a major part of conversations about sustainability: toilet paper.

But America’s heavy use of toilet paper – particularly the pillowy soft kind – is worsening climate change and taking “a dramatic and irreversible toll” on forests, especially the Canadian boreal forest, according to a new report by two major environmental groups, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Stand.earth.

The boreal forest covers almost 60% of Canada and is home to 600 indigenous communities. Its huge size means it can absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the equivalent to the annual emissions of 24m cars each year.

The report found that major brands’ refusal to switch to sustainable materials in toilet paper is having a devastating impact on forests and climate. About 28m acres of Canadian boreal forest have been cut down since 1996, an area the size of Pennsylvania. Virgin pulp, the key ingredient in toilet paper, accounted for 23% of Canada’s forest product exports.

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/mar/01/canada-boreal-forest-toilet-paper-us-climate-change-impact-report

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Napa County wineries, environmentalists clash over proposed land-use rules

KPIX

A land-use fight is brewing in Napa County pitting environmental activists on one side and winery owners on the other.

The county is considering new environmental rules that opponents say could make some properties impossible to build on. If approved, they would apply to every property of an acre or more in unincorporated parts of Napa County.

Wednesday’s Planning Commission meeting was packed with people concerned about the proposed county ordinance to increase protection of trees and watershed throughout the county. Climate protection activists say it’s needed because winemakers are now expanding up into the hills and removing native trees to do it.

“The valley floor is largely planted out,” said Jim Wilson, a member of an activist group called Napa Climate Now. “A lot of times, a forest is on the land that they want to develop and removing that forest is just a matter of getting down to business.”

The ordinance would ban private property development on any land with a slope of more than 30 degrees. It would also prohibit development within 35 to 65 feet of creeks and require keeping 70 percent of trees on a parcel. If property owners do remove trees, they would have to set aside three times the area of those trees’ canopy as undeveloped, open space.

Read more at https://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2019/02/21/napa-county-wineries-environmentalists-proposed-land-use-rules/

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Sonoma County groups embrace return of the mighty acorn

Stephen Nett, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Oak trees are among the most visible icons of the ancient Northern California landscape. With dark limbs curling above a carpet of grass, they lend an almost parklike visage to the foothills. The ten native species here also have seasonally dropped vast quantities of edible harvests of acorns, which support a bounty of wildlife and once fed indigenous people, who used fire and other tested practices to protect and nurture productive “orchards” in the woodlands.

The acorn was the original California cuisine, a reliable, nutritious staple on every menu that literally grew on trees. But after thousands of years, the venerable acorn was ignominiously edged out, to be replaced by imports of wheat flour, French fries, instant rice and corn flakes.

Despite its culinary disappearance, appreciation for the humble oak tree nut was never completely extinguished, and now it’s making a modest comeback, thanks to renewed interest in local, sustainable, functional and even foraged foods.

A mid-February workshop at the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation entitled “Seed to Table: How to Process and Eat Acorns of the Laguna Watershed,” was nearly sold out several weeks in advance.

The wild acorn is also the focus of local tribal groups seeking ways to strengthen cultural ties, reclaim their rich California heritage, and restore links to healthy diets from ancestral lands. A local, indigenously produced new product, Acorn Bites, is set to hit the local market in February.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/lifestyle/9247142-181/sonoma-county-groups-embrace-return

Posted on Categories Forests, Land Use, Local OrganizationsTags , ,

Judge: PG&E put profits over wildfire safety

A U.S. judge berated Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. on Wednesday, accusing the nation’s largest utility of enriching shareholders instead of clearing trees that can fall on its power lines and start fires and making “excuses” to avoid turning off electricity when fire risk is high.

Judge William Alsup in San Francisco did not immediately order PG&E to take any of the dramatic measures he has proposed to try to stop more wildfires.

But he warned that he was not ruling out at least some new requirements on the company if it did not come up with a plan to “solve” the problem of catastrophic wildfires in California.

“To my mind, there’s a very clear-cut pattern here: that PG&E is starting these fires,” Alsup said. “What do we do? Does the judge just turn a blind eye and say, ‘PG&E continue your business as usual. Kill more people by starting more fires.'”

Alsup is overseeing a criminal conviction against PG&E on pipeline safety charges stemming from a 2010 gas line explosion in the San Francisco Bay Area that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes.

He proposed earlier this month as part of PG&E’s probation that it remove or trim all trees that could fall onto its power lines in high-wind conditions and shut off power when fire is a risk regardless of the inconvenience to customers or loss of profit.

Posted on Categories ForestsTags , ,

Federal judge halts timber sale including old-growth trees

April Erlich, JEFFERSON PUBLIC RADIO

Destructive wildfires along the California-Oregon border in recent years has the U.S. Forest Service pursuing projects to clear forests of burnt debris and trees that could feed future fires.

One of those projects included selling the rights to log old-growth trees in Northern California, until a federal judge halted the timber sale on Friday.

Environmental groups asked a federal court to halt the Seaid-Horse timber sale in the Klamath National Forest. They say it would violate the Northwest Forest Plan by clear-cutting protected old-growth trees and harming Coho salmon.

U.S. District Judge Troy Nunley issued a preliminary injunction to temporarily halt the sale, which included 1,200 acres of timber in Siskiyou County. Environmental groups will negotiate terms of the sale with forest service workers, who returned to work on Monday for the first time since the month-long partial government shutdown.

Western Environmental Law Group attorney Susan Jane Brown says old-growth trees in Northern California provide a habitat for threatened species such as the northern spotted owl. They’re also the most resilient in enduring wildfires.

Posted on Categories Forests, HabitatsTags , ,

Save the Redwoods League releases book on state of redwood forests on 100th anniversary

Meg McConahey, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

… California’s state tree is not out of the woods. More than a million acres of redwood forests remain unprotected, managed for timber. And even the protected forests’ health is threatened by the degraded land surrounding them, Hodder said. Some forests have been logged multiple times. Among the league’s current initiatives is to help existing forests regenerate, a difficult task considering the complexity of the old growth ecosystems that developed over millennia.

They are among the most awe-inspiring natural wonders of the world. As Mother Nature’s skyscrapers, redwoods are among the tallest living things on the planet — the most gargantuan approaching 400 feet. And although not the oldest — the bristlecone pine has a longer lifespan by a good measure — the most senior denizens of the redwood forests were alive during the lifetime of Julius Caesar.

Today, less than five percent of the original 2.2 million acres of coast redwood forests, which once covered the Northern California and Southern Oregon coast for more than 200 million years, still survive.

It took a scant 150 years for loggers and then major timber companies to fell California’s primeval forests. But one organization, the Save the Redwoods League, can be credited with helping to preserve what was left of these titans that had flourished since the days of the dinosaurs.

The conservation organization, which claims credit for helping to preserve 212,000 acres of coast redwoods and their cousins, the giant sequoias that inhabit the western slope of the Sierra, is celebrating its centennial, and marking the event with publication of a new book, “The Once and Future Forest: California’s Iconic Redwoods.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/lifestyle/9162305-181/save-the-redwoods-league-releases

 

 

 

 

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Nonprofit restores Sonoma County’s natural habitat with oak tree seedlings

Hannah Beausang, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

When Natalie Portis first stepped onto her property in Sonoma nearly 20 years ago, she was immediately enchanted by the verdant natural landscape and the stately oak trees.

Portis’ wooded oasis was among the thousands of acres of forests and oak-studded landscapes that burned in the October 2017 Nuns fire, which claimed her home and an estimated 700 trees on her 10-acre Castle Road property.

“It still feels surreal,” Portis, 59, said. “It was devastating to go back there and see the singed trees. I just remember being there and feeling the grief and toll of such loss.”

She’s rebuilding her home and plans to move in this summer. It’s been a “painful” process, but a bright spot came last month as she planted 21 oak tree seedlings sprouted from acorns collected by local volunteers in the weeks after the devastating wildfires two years ago in Sonoma County.

“It was very playful and very sweet, and it put a huge smile on my face,” she said of planting the young coast live oaks on her property with help from members of the California Native Plant Society. “I feel like I’m going to get back home.”

Oak trees have long defined the bucolic landscapes of Sonoma County and played a critical role in shaping its natural habitat. Recognizing the need to preserve and proliferate the native species after the fires, the California Native Plant Society and its local Milo Baker chapter — named after the noted Santa Rosa botanist — quickly launched efforts in 2017 to harvest acorns from areas near burn zones in the county and surrounding communities.

“Oaks are really the powerhouses of our ecosystem here in California when it comes to native plants,” said Liv O’Keeffe, senior director of communication and engagement for the environmental nonprofit society. “A single oak can literally support hundreds of insects, pollinators, birds, critters and other plant species. Having those oaks in place keeps an ecosystem intact.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9116919-181/nonprofit-restores-sonoma-countys-natural

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Report: Sonoma County’s natural resources worth billions

Hannah Beausang, SONOMA INDEX-TRIBUNE

Conservation advocates have long touted the need to preserve Sonoma County’s bucolic landscape, but a report released last week for first time assigned a dollar value to those open spaces and their natural resources.

The value of services provided by undeveloped and working lands, both public and private, in Sonoma County ranges from $2.2 to $6.6 billion annually, according to the report from the Healthy Lands and Healthy Economies Initiative. The study stems from a years-long collaboration between open space and conservation districts in Sonoma, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties.

“It’s clear that our community values open space and working lands, but the main point of the report is that not only do we value them, but these lands have an immense value that’s not commonly understood in the typical market framework,” said Karen Gaffney, conservation planning manager for the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District.

The report assigns value to a variety of ecosystems. It accounts for green spaces that absorb runoff to curb flooding while filtering out pollutants. It highlights the benefit of soil, which captures and stores atmospheric carbon and sustains ground cover to prevent damaging erosion. It quantifies the public health benefit provided by trees and plants, which boost air quality, and of open spaces that harbor insect- and wildlife that can limit pests.

It’s the first clear picture of the total estimated value of Sonoma County’s “natural capital,” or its stock of natural assets, and the way they can provide cost-effective alternatives to man-made infrastructure.

Read more at https://www.sonomanews.com/news/8981145-181/report-sonoma-countys-natural-resources