Summit Watershed Protection League

Next Santa Cruz Fire Safe Meeting Feb 7th 10:30am : Fire Safe Meetings

A bit about our history and land conservation efforts:

There exists, in 2019, a beautiful redwood forest that surrounds the Villa Del Monte subdivision. It is 113 acres in size. It was clear-cut of most old-growth redwood in the early 1870s. It last burned in a fire that started at Laurel Mill on July 4, 1876. A half-mile of old South Pacific Coast train bed and telegraph lines traverse the property between the Wrights and Laurel train tunnels. Roughly 200 homes surround this area.

In the intervening 150 years, the clear-cut scar left by generations past has been slowly healing. First brush grew up, then fast-growing trees like tan oak and bay grew tall. Slowly, the redwoods reclaimed their rightful ground. In recent decades the redwoods have begun to shade out the bays and tan oaks, causing them to grow tall, spindly, and weak. On warm spring days they become heavy with rising sap, bow way over, and with a resounding pop, crash down into the woods. These exist as huge piles of dry tinder, crisscrossing 10 feet above the forest floor like a giant game of Pick-Up-Sticks. Thickets of small dead trees and brush, now shaded out by the redwoods, exist as ladder fuels that could carry a fire higher and faster.

Thanks to the efforts of Summit Watershed Protection League (SWPL) and the support of adjacent neighborhoods, the redwood tree canopy has been saved from four attempts to log since 1983. As a result, the area now provides prime conditions for a shaded fuel break.

We have maintained SWPL, our neighborhood 501(c)3 non-profit charity, to always be in a ready state should a logging threat reoccur. With the help of John Leopold the property was rezoned so logging there is no longer an easy option. The property was recently purchased by a neighbor who is interested in being a good steward of the land. "The ultimate goal would be to return this area to look more like it did 1000 years ago." said the land owner on a recent hike of the property with CDF and neighbors.

As a result, SWPL has changed its current focus from local logging impact, to reducing local forest-fire risk.

SWPL thinks we should each preserve our own beautiful little piece of the planet the best we can for future generations.

Current Issues:

California has seen a drastic change in wildfires in the past years. Not only have 9 of the 10 most damaging fires recorded taken place in the last 15 years, wildfire behavior is changing radically. During the 2018 Paradise Camp Fire, it was reported that fire spread at a rate of 80 football fields per minute.

Given these recent events, and our charter to protect the Summit Watershed, SWPL is taking an active interest in fire prevention and education.

Proposed "Shaded Fuel Break"

In late 2018, Andy Hubbs, Forester with Cal Fire, surveyed land between Villa Del Monte and Burns Creek at the request of landowners. He strongly recommends creating a shaded fuel break to better protect the land and homes in the watershed.

A shaded fuel break is a carefully planned mechanical thinning of brush and ladder fuels under the cover of an enclosed tree canopy. This provides a more fire resistant forest floor that is easier to maintain over time. Brush recovers much more slowly under the shade of bigger, older trees.

Thanks to the efforts of SWPL and the generous donations of adjacent neighborhoods, the tree canopy has been saved and the area now provides prime conditions for a shaded fuel break.

Click on "Resources" on the left and find the Andy Hubbs Memos in "Fire".

The Plan

See map above that shows roughly where the fuel reduction would occur; really more defensible space enhancement than anything else. The map shows a buffer of about 100’ from homes, which should be the responsibility of the homeowners (and for the most part looked pretty good based on the walk we took), and below that buffer is a secondary 100-200’ zone which would be the approximate work area. Phase I, as mapped, is estimated at about 11 acres.

A few of things to note about the map:

- The County GIS parcel lines are far from perfect, so take property locations with a grain of salt.

- The dark purple shaded areas represent Phase 1, lighter purple shading illustrates Phase 2. These areas can always be adjusted as needed. The flagging phase will help neighbors see and define the actual areas.

- There are a few small frontages along Deerfield that are shown in the project area that probably wouldn’t be included and need to be field verified, but they are within the 100-200 foot zone around homes (based on the County building footprints).

The following is a brief summary of the treatment recommendations that we discussed during our walk-through. As mentioned previously, recommendations and treatment locations are based largely on the inaccessibility of the property(s) which limits options.

- Cut the majority of shrubs and trees less than 8-10” in diameter, except within any large gaps in the overstory canopy. There, smaller trees and shrubs may be retained with spacing of at least 10-15’. Some understory shrubs and small trees outside of canopy gap areas could be retained on a case by case basis.

- Prune the lower limbs of overstory trees to height of approximately 10’.

- Fall all dead trees regardless of size (when and if feasible). Delimb the fallen dead trees and leave the trunk in place but in contact with the ground.

- Make ground contact with all fallen and hung-up trees (when feasible) and delimb them as well.

- For treatment of the slash (the cut material), it will likely be lopped to a height of 12” or less from the ground, stacked in burn piles, and burned during the wet season; generally between Nov-April, depending on rainfall. Some restrictions could occur during that time frame during extended dry periods with low Rh and wind.

- Piles will need to be placed 10-20 feet from retained vegetation and under no canopy or canopy that is at least 20’ overhead. These conditions, and other specifications, will be included in the contract with the entity that does the work. During the non-fire season, we have two fire engines available for this type of work. There are some projects ahead of you, but if we finish we would be available to burn your piles next winter. We may need to take care of burning piles by contractors.

All of this work could be done with a private contract crew or the CA Conservation Corps (CCC – or similar entity). CCC does not do burns however. I would estimate the private crew averages between $800-1500/acre (probably closer to $1500) and the CCC to be $1500+ per acre. The CAL FIRE inmate crews are less expensive, but not readily available. Depending on the type of grant awarded, a match maybe required (up to 50%).

I recommend getting some sort of preliminary agreement/authorization in writing from the residents who will be a part of Phase I (at this point an email would be fine). This lets the Fire Safe Council know the project is feasible, folks are serious and it is worth their time in applying for grant funds. I also recommend continuing to attend meetings.

Andy Hubbs, Forester I

Vegetation Management Program Coordinator

Department of Forestry and Fire Protection

CAL FIRE San Mateo – Santa Cruz Unit