Posted on Categories Forests, Local OrganizationsTags , , , ,

Local tribal citizens are advocating for more cultural burns

Katherine Minkiewicz-Martine, SOCONEWS

As smoke from the massive Dixie Fire made its way to Sonoma County, the Healdsburg Fire Department convened a group of fire ecologists, land management experts and stewardship specialists on Aug. 4 to provide a presentation to the community on fire ecology and how certain burns can help restore the land and work to help prevent devastating wildfires.

Clint McKay is a tribal citizen of the Dry Creek Band of Pomo and Wappo Indians. He’s a retired parks superintendent for the city of Santa Rosa and he spends much of his time giving fire ecology talks and working as an Indigenous education coordinator at the Pepperwood Preserve.

He also refuses to use the term “land management.”

“Management invokes that you control something, that you can control it and command it. Obviously we cannot,” McKay said. “I chuckle to myself every time I hear ‘natural resource management,’ ‘fire fuels management,’ ‘vegetation management.’ If we begin to think that we can manage fire, we’re in for a whole lot more of what we’ve been experiencing the past decade and what we are continuing to experience today.”

McKay has been advocating for cultural burns for a long time, however, the idea of using fire to prevent fire can sometimes be tenuous among fire fatigued Sonoma County residents.

Read more at https://soconews.org/scn_healdsburg/news/local-tribal-citizens-are-advocating-for-more-cultural-burns/article_35d615f6-f8a7-11eb-bfaa-d7403ca9249a.html?

Posted on Categories ForestsTags , ,

Sonoma County awarded $37 million FEMA grant to mitigate wildfire risks to life, property and the environment

SONOMA COUNTY Press Release

President Joe Biden announced today that the County of Sonoma will receive a $37 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency designed to help local, state and tribal agencies in California receive reimbursement for certain costs related to wildfire risk reduction. Biden made the announcement Wednesday at a White House briefing of governors from Western states. The grant is part of an overall $1 billion Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities funding grant and requires a local match of 25 percent, or approximately $13 million, which Sonoma County plans to finance using PG&E settlement funds, for a total amount of $50 million.

“Today I’m announcing a $37 million grant to Sonoma County, California, in support of fire mitigation efforts that are underway,” President Biden said at the start of the briefing. “Because Sonoma knows all too well the devastation wrought by fire, they are the first to apply for the mitigation funds.”

The grant funding will be used to address vegetation management and fire fuel reduction in Sonoma County, including selective thinning of certain canopies, trimming undergrowth, fuels reduction for safe ingress and egress of emergency vehicles, and the creation of shaded fuel breaks and green belts to serve as fire breaks. The funding also will be used to support private property owners to prevent losses while increasing the environmental and natural values of our wildland areas.

“Since 2017 we have focused on innovative wildfire risk reduction strategies in Sonoma County. The approval of this project, which is the first of its kind in the country, validates the hard work and innovation in fire risk reduction that’s been underway for the last four years,” said Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, Chair of the Board of Supervisors. “These funds will help us implement ‘house outward’ strategies such as cost-share incentives for private property owners who need help with hardening structures or creating defensible space. Our goal is to get to 100 percent of at-risk homes having defensible space. This grant will also facilitate ‘wildland inward’ strategies to create protective buffers around our communities, including landscape scale management strategies like grazing greenbelts and shaded fuel breaks.”

County officials intend to distribute the grant funding as part of an integrated, innovative cross-agency “systems” methodology designed to work simultaneously at large wildland scale and neighborhood scale beginning with specific project areas in the Mark West, Lower Russian River and Sonoma Mountain areas. The “Inside-Out, Outside-In” approach includes structural hardening and defensible space to the inner core, while applying hazardous fuel reduction techniques to the outer core to create an overarching wildfire resilience zone that reduces the risk of catastrophic losses in the Wildland Urban Interface.

From 2017 through 2020, fires have burned more than 300,000 acres in Sonoma County, destroyed nearly 7,000 structures and killed 24 people.

For more information about Sonoma County’s recent fire mitigation grant from FEMA, please contact Permit Sonoma at (707) 565-1925 or Tennis.Wick@sonoma-county.org.

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Habitats, WaterTags , , , ,

California unveils sweeping wildfire prevention plan amid record fire losses and drought

John Myers, LOS ANGELES TIMES

California Wildfire and Resilience Action Plan

After the worst fire season in California history and as drought conditions raise fears of what’s to come, Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders unveiled a $536-million proposal Thursday to boost efforts at firefighting and a variety of prevention measures, including vegetation management and the construction of fire-resistant structures across the state.

The proposal, which the Legislature could send to the governor’s desk as soon as Monday, marks an early agreement by the governor and lawmakers to spend more than half of the $1 billion in wildfire funding Newsom called for in his state budget proposal in January. The gravity of the issue became clear last week after state officials reported the water content in the Sierra Nevada snowpack stood at 59% of the average for early spring.

“The science is clear: Warming winter temperatures and warming summer temperatures across the American West are creating more challenging and dangerous wildfire conditions,” said Wade Crowfoot, the governor’s secretary of natural resources.

According to an outline provided by legislative staff, more than $350 million will be spent on fire prevention and suppression efforts, including prescribed fires and other projects designed to reduce the vegetation growth that has fueled California’s most devastating fires. The package also includes $25 million for fortifying older homes that weren’t built using fire-resistance methods required during construction over the last decade.

Read more at https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2021-04-08/california-wildfire-prevention-536-million-newsom-lawmakers

Posted on Categories ForestsTags , , , ,

Op-Ed: Wildfire safety starts with communities, not cutting forests

Shaye Wolf, THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

Another harrowing fire season and devastating losses of lives and homes sound an urgent alarm that California’s wildfire policy — focused on logging forests in the backcountry — isn’t working. Tragedy after escalating tragedy demands that we change course.

The good news is that a road map exists for fire policy that truly protects communities. Step one: Make houses and communities more fire-safe. Step two: Stop building new developments in fire-prone areas. Step three: Take strong action to fight climate change.

For years, state and federal wildfire policies have promoted logging of our forests. Under overly broad terms like forest management,thinning and fuels reduction, these policies do the bidding of the timber industry and entrenched agencies that are invested in cutting down trees. Yet, as more money has poured into logging, we’ve witnessed the unprecedented loss of lives and homes.

The reality is that no amount of logging can stop fires. In fact, it can even make fires burn hotter and faster. The 2018 Camp Fire that destroyed the Butte County city of Paradise spread most rapidly through areas that had been heavily logged, and we’re seeing the same patterns in this year’s fires.

A study covering three decades and 1,500 fires, co-authored by one of my colleagues at the Center for Biological Diversity, found that the most heavily logged areas experience the most intense fire. That isn’t surprising given that cutting down trees creates more exposed, hotter, drier conditions and promotes the spread of highly flammable invasive grasses.

Moreover, many of California’s fires — including half of this year’s burned acreage — have occurred not in forests, but in chaparral, grasslands and oak savanna. For at-risk communities across much of the state, logging is completely irrelevant to the fire threat.
Continue reading “Op-Ed: Wildfire safety starts with communities, not cutting forests”

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Forests, Sustainable LivingTags , , , ,

‘It’s getting worse:’ Climate change stokes fiery future for California

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Striding through the brown, sun-dried grass on a slope at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, Caitlin Cornwall stopped to touch a slender stalk of blue wild rye, crowned by a tasseled seed pod.

The 3,900-acre park in the Mayacamas Mountains near Kenwood was largely overrun by the Nuns fire in October, and the signs of recovery are abundant. Most of the live oak, bay and madrone trees survived; smaller Douglas firs perished and are being dismantled by beetles and woodpeckers.

The grasslands are generally healthier than they were before last fall’s blaze and could readily burn again, said Cornwall, a biologist with Sonoma Ecology Center, which has managed the park since 2012.

“This is all a fire-created natural community,” she said. The park burned in 1964, also by a fire named Nuns.

Indeed, fire shaped the drought-prone landscape for thousands of years, as Native Americans used it to maintain meadows and forests that provided deer, elk and acorns for food as well as grasses for basketry.

But now, climate change has thrown the symbiosis of humans, fire and the landscape into catastrophic disarray. Much of California is a yearround tinderbox, with fast-moving wildfires erupting so quickly this year that firefighters have rushed from one to the next, with the usual peak of the fire season still to come.

“It just takes one spark,” said Scott McLean, a deputy chief with Cal Fire, the state’s firefighting and forestry agency.

As heat-trapping gases continue to pour into the atmosphere and temperatures inch upward, drawing moisture from the soil and vegetation, the state’s vast landscape is growing increasingly volatile, costing lives and billions of dollars in fire damages.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8737270-181/its-getting-worse-climate-change

Posted on Categories Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags , , ,

Fire ecology's lessons for a more resilient future

Leilani Clark, CIVIL EATS

“Bigger homes, closer together is a recipe for more fuel on the landscape,” says Gregory L. Simon, an associate professor of geography and environmental sciences at the University of Colorado and author of Flame and Fortune in the American West. “In my opinion, we shouldn’t be building homes in areas of high fire risk at all. It’s not a matter of building fire-safe construction or zoning in certain ways. Simply because of the loss of life involved and the risk to first responders.

A few times a year, Edward Willie tends to the last remaining dogbane patch in Sonoma County. Situated on a three-acre preserve bordering Highway 101 in northern Santa Rosa, the patch is estimated to be centuries old and once spanned a five-mile radius. Neighboring tribes—mainly Pomo and Wapo—cultivated the fibrous, stalky native plants to make cordage for hunting and fishing nets and other tools.
In October, the Tubbs Fire burned hot and fast through the preserve on its way to hopping the six-lane highway, leaving behind a scorched landscape of Himalayan blackberry roots and the black skeletons of wild plum trees and coyote bush. Yet, for the most part, the dogbane survived. In some formerly vegetation-choked areas of the preserve, the spindly plants are all that remain.
“The dogbane needs fire—that’s what makes it grow tall and strong,” says Willie, a native Pomo, Walaeki, and Wintu teacher and cofounder of the Buckeye Gathering, an annual nature-based, paleo-technology meeting in Northern California. Researchers have found that dogbane sprouts quickly after fire and can become more abundant. Burning actually stimulates new, straight growth.
Less than a mile away from the preserve, block after block of ruined homes, businesses, and cars stand as a reminder of the conflagration that wreaked havoc across three Northern California counties. Despite the scope of the tragedy, Willie sees regeneration and even radical hope in the region’s fire ecology.
“It’s a happy [dogbane] patch now,” he says, as he demonstrates how to peel the taut fibers from the plant’s stalk. “It’s filled with life. New sprouts are already coming up. It’s a California plant, a fire plant. It was made to survive this.”
There is no silver lining to a fire like those that struck Sonoma and Napa counties in October, or the still-burning Thomas Fire in Southern California, which has burned 281,900 acres to become the largest California wildfire in modern recorded history. But for people like Willie and Erik Ohlsen, an ecological designer and director of the Permaculture Skills Center in Sebastopol, the North Bay fires are a wake-up call, a chance to proactively address the way the plants and animals of Northern California, and most of the Golden State, have co-evolved with fire—and to rebuild these communities with fire in mind.
Others go further, saying that poor planning and land management practices turned a natural feature of chaparral landscapes into a catastrophic force, leaving in its wake $3 billion in estimated damages. The city of Santa Rosa alone has already blown through $5 million from their general fund to fight the fires and the massive recovery effort has just begun.
Read more at: Fire Ecology’s Lessons for a More Resilient Future | Civil Eats

Posted on Categories Land UseTags , , , , ,

A Plea to Journalists – Wildfires in California: please investigate poor land planning rather than denigrating the region’s iconic, native ecosystem

Posted October 31, 2017, by THE CALIFORNIA CHAPARRAL INSTITUTE BLOG

Many in the fire science community are disappointed by the recent reporting in High Country News (HCN) on the tragic fires in northern California (Shrub-choked wildlands played a role in California fires, HCN 10/24/2017).
Portraying the ecology of the region as “choked” by native shrublands not only demonizes California’s richly biodiverse, characteristic habitat, the chaparral, but fails to come close to explaining why and how the fires occurred. Little effort was made in the article to help readers understand the situation. Instead, the article simply repeated hackneyed phrases over-used to describe fires in the western US.
Every fire is different. Large, high-intensity wildfires have long been a natural feature of these chaparral landscapes. What has changed is that we have put people in harm’s way.
A quick overview on Google Earth of what burned in the devastating Tubbs Fire would have revealed that it was not “shrub-choked wildlands,” but rather a complex patchwork of non-native grasslands, oak woodland, conifers, chaparral, and unfortunately, a lot of homes intermixed.
http://google.org/crisismap/google.com/2017-tubbs-fire

Tubbs veg area south no fire

“Shrub-choked wildlands?” The area burned in the Tubbs Fire was actually a complex patchwork of non-native grasslands, oak woodland, conifers, chaparral, and unfortunately, a lot of homes intermixed. Most of this area shown above burned within the southern portion of the Tubbs Fire, including the neighborhood of Coffey Park (in the lower left hand corner).

Tubbs distance with arrow

The distance of the devastated neighborhood of Coffey Park (tip of arrow) was approximately 1.6 miles from any significant amounts of wildland vegetation (beginning of arrow). Brown/amber colored areas under arrow indicate non-native grasslands burned during the Tubbs Fire.

Blaming nature and past efforts by firefighters to save lives and property through fire suppression ignores the actual problem – poorly planned communities in high fire risk areas.
Ironically, the article quotes a source that admits large fires have occurred before, but the source goes on to ignore the full history to support his contention that the recent fires were unusual, a classic logical fallacy. Yes, the article reads, there were large fires in the past (when we were suppressing fires), but the recent fires are different because we have been suppressing fires.
Memories are short. Despite claims to the contrary, wildland fires along California’s west coast and inland valleys have not changed much since the 1964 Hanly Fire, a blaze which burned nearly the same territory as the Tubbs Fire but was even larger. What has changed is human demography.

Read more at: A Plea to Journalists – Wildfires in California: please investigate poor land planning rather than denigrating the region’s iconic, native ecosystem | The California Chaparral Institute Blog