May 13, 2003 |
CONTACT: Pam Kan-Rice, (530) 754-3912, email@example.com |
Cooperative Extension helping south state understand wildfire threat
By John Stumbos, Sr. Public Information Representative
IDYLLWILD -- Gary Nakamura, a forestry specialist with the University of California’s Cooperative Extension (UCCE) Service, hopes homeowners and land managers in the mountain communities of Southern California get the message that smart forest management means smart fire prevention.
Nakamura is far afield from his home turf in Redding, but methods and technologies for managing forests and treating forest fuels in Northern California might prove useful in Southern California. With UCCE personnel stretched thin and the potential for catastrophic wildfire greater than ever, the urgency of the situation has him on the road spreading the word about forest management to maintain healthy forest conditions for wildlife, watersheds, as well as people and their homes.
“Forest fires are a natural and important part of California’s forests,” Nakamura says. “The question is, ‘How do we create communities and forests that are resilient to drought, insects and disease, as well as fire?’”
Idyllwild sits atop the San Jacinto Mountains, west of Palm Springs. Both Idyllwild and neighboring Lake Arrowhead have become second home sanctuaries for Southern Californians. The areas have mushroomed in population and building in recent decades. Narrow one-lane roadways make difficult, at best, getting fire equipment in or people out.
Believe it or not, there are still homes in these forested areas with wood shake roofs. Realizing the fire risk, local, state and federal agencies have organized Mountain Area Safety Teams to coordinate fire prevention and suppression efforts.
“I see this as a teachable moment for the whole state, ” Nakamura says. “ Not just in Southern California, but in other places, especially in the Sierra Nevada -- Auburn, Placerville and Sonora, for instance -- where we might still make a difference in how they develop.”
Nakamura, in an effort to let people know what’s at stake, is coordinating two upcoming workshops in Southern California to inform homeowners and landowners. He and other UC experts and agency staff will give participants a new appreciation of forest conditions, treatments to improve forest health, options available to minimize fire hazards and insect mortality, and for utilizing or disposing of dead trees. Dates are June 6 in Idyllwild and June 7 in Lake Arrowhead. The workshops include a guided field trip.
The choices Southern Californians must make aren’t easy. For instance, tree mortality around the north shore of Lake Arrowhead and the Fern Valley area of Idyllwild is upward of 50 percent. “This increases fire risk, fire intensity and fire severity,” Nakamura says. “Even without fire, dead trees have an effect on wildlife habitat, soils and watershed function. We need large, landscape-scale fuel treatments in the near future to have any significant impact on fire hazard.”
These fuel-reduction treatments are expensive, $500 per acre or more, and
bring conflicts with other resource values into focus. Some of the affected
areas are prime habitat for sensitive species like the California spotted owl.
“Do we cut trees in those areas to reduce fuels?” he asks. “These are questions
that need answers not just from the residents whose homes are at risk, but they
also have implications for downstream users in urban areas who depend on these
areas for recreation, flood control and water
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Nakamura has prepared a primer on living in Southern California forests that covers a wide range of issues. Click here for a pdf version of the primer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org for additional information about the workshops or the primer.)