54.2 F
English English Español Español
May 30, 2023

Fire, natural resources officials: prepare for a heavy fire season

In 2020, the CZU fires ravaged the Santa Cruz Mountains, destroying 1,490 structures and an untold number of trees.

A little more than two years later, many of those downed trees washed down streams into the ocean and, during the storms in January and February, smashed into the wharf at Seascape State Beach, heavily damaged the Capitola Wharf and caused millions of dollars of damage to the small seaside village.

That was a perfect example of how forest health—and wildfire risk—ties into multiple aspects of life on the Central Coast as jurisdictions seek to address the ongoing effects of climate change, says Santa Cruz County Supervisor Zach Friend, who was part of an all-day seminar Thursday by the California Wildfire and Forest Resilience Task Force.

“There is an interrelationship between climate disasters,” Friend says. “Dead and felled trees from the CZU fire ended up becoming the same trees that caused damage in Seacliff and Capitola. We have to look at, and plan for, this connection of extreme drought and extreme flood and see that one disaster can lead to other challenges years after the event.”

The Task Force was created by Gov. Gavin Newsom. It calls for a comprehensive statewide strategy for wildfire and forest management. This includes aligning the alphabet soup of local, state, federal and tribal agencies that are involved in forest health and wildfire management. This includes aligning the alphabet soup of local, state, federal and tribal agencies that are involved in forest health and wildfire management.

This includes CalFire, the U.S. Forest Service, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Environmental Protection Agency.

More than 300 people attended the seminar in the Cocoanut Grove at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, along with more than 200 who watched it online.

At the heart of the seminar was the knowledge that much of California is facing the possibility of a catastrophic fire season.

“We all know the climate is changing, and that conditions are riper and riper for catastrophic wildfire,” says California Natural Resources Agency Secretary Wade Crowfoot. “We are just months away from what could be another devastating wildfire.”

More importantly, the differing landscapes and climates throughout the state require different regional approaches to management. 

“One thing I’ve learned is that wildfire threats are very different, depending on where you are in California,” Crowfoot says. 

In the Central Coast, there have been nine forest health projects and 71 wildfire prevention efforts thanks to the Task Force.

In addition, there have been fuel reduction efforts in 32,000 acres, and prescribed burns in 23,000 acres. 

The Task Force has 1,200 wildfire management projects in the works, Crowfoot says, but added there needs to be more. 

“I think we need to move much more quickly than we have today,” he says.

Most importantly, managing the state’s forests and reducing wildfire risks also requires collaboration of multiple agencies and organizations.

“This is a collective effort,” says Jennifer Eberlien, regional forester with the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Region. “Not one entity can do it by themselves.”

Chris Dicus, a natural resources management professor at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, showed the audience a photo of heavy undergrowth that has been exacerbated by the heavy rains as an example of the state’s current wildfire risk.

“It looks like a battlefield, and that’s because it is a battlefield,” he says. “Wildfire is going to be a problem, so we have to get over the idea that it’s not going to happen to us.”

Dicus says that management and prevention efforts must include shaping this battlefield by, among other things, creating refuge areas in mountainous regions where evacuation is difficult or impossible during wildfires, and creating ways for firefighters to access the areas.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


graciela vega

Q&A: Graciela Vega on Cinco de Mayo

The community is invited to gather and celebrate Cinco de Mayo on May 5 from 4-7pm in the Watsonville City Plaza. Co-presented by the...