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As I write this, much of our state is engulfed in flames and smoke. Unprecedented fires are raging across California, including the Camp Fire in Butte County, the most deadly and destructive fire in our history. It’s difficult to watch as so many fellow Californians experience a devastation unseen in our lifetimes.
Over the past few weeks, I have been asked by POST supporters, partners, staff and acquaintances some version of the question “What is POST doing to manage your lands to prevent or reduce the risk of wildfires?” While our region has had wildfires, notably the Lockheed Fire in 2009 and the Loma Fire in 2016, we have been fortunate to escape these large-scale catastrophic fires so far.
Still, these types of fires could easily happen here — especially as the weather warms, autumn precipitation comes later, and winter rains are potentially ending earlier as a result of a changing climate. So, when asked what POST is doing to protect our lands and our communities in the face of these changes, I think about resiliency, preparation, and partnerships.
In the face of change, we want to manage the resources on our lands in a way that makes them most adaptable to future conditions. In our redwood forests, that means working to restore more natural conditions. Redwoods are fairly tolerant of fire – they are adapted to a landscape that historically burned on a regular basis. However, in some parts of POST’s San Vicente Redwoods (SVR) property, redwoods now occur in dense stands that are more susceptible to catastrophic wildfire. By thinning these stands and allowing larger trees to grow, we’re helping make the forest more fire resilient.
You may have heard the old saying that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This definitely applies to wildfire. On rangeland properties like Cloverdale Ranch, we use cattle to manage our grasslands where they eat and trample tall grasses. This helps reduce the fuel available if a fire were to occur on that landscape. It also promotes the growth of native perennial grasses that tend to have more robust root systems and can help stabilize the soil post-fire.
At SVR, we have also created shaded fuel breaks by trimming understory vegetation and implementing what are called “prescribed burns” along key roadways. If a wildfire breaks out, these shaded fuel breaks provide fire lines where firefighters can contain the fire’s spread. In fact, the Lockheed Fire was stopped along a fuel break on SVR.
We can’t do any of this alone. POST is fortunate to have many partners with whom we collaborate on the management of lands across our region. The shaded fuel break mentioned above was implemented on our property by the Bonny Doon Fire Safe Council. We also partner with local Resource Conservation Districts (San Mateo and Santa Cruz) to implement many of our forest and rangeland management plans.
Last, but certainly not least, CAL FIRE is a key partner on the front lines to prevent loss of life, property, and natural resources to fire. We work closely with CAL FIRE to ensure that when a fire does break out they are familiar with and able to quickly access our properties when responding.
While it is not possible to prevent catastrophic wildfires, there are still steps we can take to prevent impacts from a fire on neighboring communities and natural resources. Careful management of the land pushes the needle in the direction of reducing those fire intensities. We’re investing in the steps within our control to secure the lands we have worked hard to protect, and to make sure they remain resilient in the face of a changing climate.
Here are a two organizations accepting donations in support of the state’s recent fire victims:
California Community Foundation’s Wildfire Relief Fund offers aid to those affected by wildfires. Some of their grants have gone to rebuilding homes, providing financial and mental health assistance and helping those affected to get medical treatment.
Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) protects open space on the Peninsula and in the South Bay for the benefit of all. Since its founding in 1977, POST has been responsible for saving more than 76,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties.