Beyond our immediate home area, many of us are surrounded by beautiful redwood forests, chaparral, and other wildlands. We live in what is called a Wildland Urban Interface (WUI). It is probably why you moved here. For some of us, protecting these forests, creeks and other natural resources is as important as protecting our homes. While the science of forest stewardship is evolving, there are a few things that we know can help us be good stewards and ensure these beautiful lands are here for our children’s children to enjoy.

Homes surrounded by dense forests are part of the reasons people choose to live in West County.

Safer West County has gathered information to help you manage your own land and to become more informed to make decisions as a community on how to improve the health and resiliency of our shared natural world.

What are Shaded Fuel Breaks?

Fuel breaks in timbered areas where trees within the break are thinned and pruned to reduce the fire potential yet retain enough crown canopy to make a less favorable microclimate for surface fires. Shade on the forest floor is retained, but ladder fuel that could take fire up into the canopy is removed or reduced to improve the chance of survival of the forest as a fire moves quickly along the forest floor. Areas with more fuel tend to burn hotter, kill more of the older and larger trees and essentially cause more damage.

(A) Under severe fire weather and a high rate of spread, crown mass passes through the flaming front rapidly and exceeds a critical mass flow rate, and crown fire occurs. (B) Where crown bulk density is lower under the same rate of spread, critical levels of mass flow rate cannot be obtained and the fire remains a surface fire. Lower crown fire rate of spread (i.e., lower windspeed), might also result in loss of crown fire activity.

EXAMPLE: Secretary Crowfoot Visits Shaded Fuel Break in Lake Tahoe

How can we improve water retention?

While creating shaded fuel breaks, we also create a lot of debris. This often creates a dilemma of how you are going to now get rid of the fuel you have created on the forest floor. We can lop and scatter the debris, burn it next season, chip it, or as OAEC has experimented successfully with, you can use it to slow and spread the next rainfall so that the ground retains more of the moisture and becomes more resilient to fire.

‘Slash Ain’t Trash, It’s Beneficial Biomass!’  – Brock Dolman

With various limbing and thinning projects underway, we recognized the opportunity to stack functions and use the abundance of resulting material onsite (often called “slash”) to stuff nearby gullies! To do this legally, we had to get two permits: a General 401 Water Quality Certification for Small Habitat Restoration Projects through the State Water Board and a Lake and Streambed Alteration Agreement through CDFW.

How do we manage fuel reduction?

Timing matters! We need to take into consideration bird nesting season and other cycles in nature.

California State Code 3503 states it is “unlawful to take, possess or needlessly destroy the nest or eggs of any birds.” If you see tree trimmers disturbing an active nest in California, take photos – of the nest, any destruction that has occurred, and the company’s truck with name/phone number. If willing, tell the company they are violating the law and to stop. Immediately call Cal-TIP – 888-334-2258  This is the Law Enforcement Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – and they will have a game warden respond asap. And they can even call the number of the tree trimmer as they’re coming.

When do you trim trees and protect nesting wildlife?

Generally, in our hotter drier West, the best time to trim and prune is during fall and early winter when trees are dormant. In addition to avoiding nesting times, it’s also generally better for the tree. Cutting, trimming and pruning during spring and early summer can lead to diseased trees and pest intrusions that harms trees.

Here’s an excellent brochure from the Sea and Sage Audubon Society on how to Keep Bird Nests Safe and Your Trees Healthy! :

Here’s a website to help identify nests in trees

When is Migration, When is Neting? Unpacking the phenology of Bay Area raptors by Allen Fish

  • Forest Stewardship

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