Apr 22, 2023

$12 Million Towards Wildfire Resilience

$12 Million Towards Wildfire Resilience

At times it feels like all of California is burning. News of wildfires reach us daily describing fires that are larger and fiercer than those of the past. Lives are lost, homes are lost, and entire communities displaced. People living outside of fire prone areas also live with wildfire’s effects- orange skies mask the daylight as smoke blankets towns hundreds, even thousands, of miles away. Watersheds, once protected by shade trees, are left exposed, potentially affecting the water supply for millions of Californians.

The Dixie Fire, now 90% contained, continues to burn months after its ignition in July. It is the on record in California. The KNP Complex Fire threatens beloved sequoias; the giant trees were wrapped in foil to protect them. The Caldor Fire has destroyed over 700 homes and other structures. The damage and loss from these fires are horrific, although not entirely unexpected.

The size of fires is increasing — 7 of the largest fires on record have been in the last 3 years. But size is just one, perhaps overly simplistic, metric. There are the fatalities, the injuries, the cost of suppression... the stress and anxiety that sticks with people after living through a fire. Multitudes of homes are destroyed each year, structure loss from fires in California has been escalating at a rapid rate during that last few decades.

Times are a changing

Living with fire is a challenging endeavor, yet fire has been a neccessary and important part of California's landscape for millions of years. Plants and ecosystems have adapted to fire- some plants depend on it, requiring heat or smoke to germinate. Fire is part of the interwoven web of life here, as natural as rain or wind. Still, this natural occurrence has been radically altered by years of human activity resulting in wildfire patterns that are not at all natural. Many factors have contributed to our current wildfire reality: climate change, continued development in and around the wildlands, mismanagement of land (especially in forests) which included the violent exclusion of indigenous people who have been living with and using fire on the landscape for thousands of years. Accidental ignitions are also problematic - everything from arson, to sparking power lines, to gender reveal parties.

Room for infrastructure improvements

In addition to creating increasingly large, severe fires, our modern communities struggle once fire rips through the canyons, surrounds the developments, and hops the freeways. During a fire, communication is often disjointed and confusing, if it arrives at all. Most homes in high fire risk areas have not been hardened — retrofitting of structures to make them more resistant to fire. There may not be enough defensible space around homes — a buffer zone free of flammable vegetation. Evacuation routes can’t handle the number of cars as people flee the fire. And still, new developments are planned in high fire-risk zones.

Layers of problems need layers of resilience

Fused together, all these factors have helped create the literal conflagration we are seeing today. These factors are diverse and complex. They need responses as multidimensional as they are. Layers of proactive projects can bolster one another. They can help reduce the risk of fire before it starts, and help communities survive fire once it happens.

Think regionally

To become more resilient, we need to have a nuanced understanding of how fire plays out across our remarkably diverse state and diverse plant communities. Some risk reduction steps are state-wide (reduce unintended ignitions, promote structure hardening). Others are regional: a conifer forest with its tall pointy trees and vast understory needs different vegetation management than chaparral clad hills with tightly woven shrubs which hug the earth. Many forested areas, like in the Sierra Nevada, have seen too little fire, through overzealous suppression of low-risk fires and the banning of indigenous cultural burning, leading to overgrowth and high fuel loads. And then other areas have seen too much fire, such as the shrubby coastal ranges. Generally, chaparral has seen too much fire, converting the land to invasive plants. These invasive plants are more flammable than the native plants, increasing fire risk. After a fire, these non-native plants expand their range, pushing out the less flammable natives, and cause even more fire risk — on and on it goes in an unfortunate feedback loop of fiery destruction.

Funding shovel-ready projects

In April, Governor Newsom signed a $536 million Wildfire Prevention Early Budget Action Funding Plan, providing money for wildfire prevention and resilience projects throughout the state. Locally, the Santa Monica Mountains and Rim of the Valley Corridor, still recoving from the deadly Woolsey Fire, remain at risk for another catastrophic blaze. Senator Henry Stern pushed to get a chunk of those state funds to this area for region-specific projects. Shortly after, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (SMMC) announced they had received $12 million for local projects, projects which would address this area's specific needs.

"We finally succeeded in making the case to the Governor and the rest of California that our fire problems in this region are unique—that we must focus on home and community hardening, public land management, and restoring the power of native ecologies in our chaparral by removing invasive grasses, While prescribed fire and dead tree clearance may work in the northern redwood forests, that’s not going to prevent the next Woolsey Fire.” said Senator Stern in a press release.

$12 million

The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy got the word out that they were looking for projects that were shovel- ready, ready to go now before fire season was upon the area. To date 18 projects have been funded from the $12 million allocated to SMMC. They address region-specific concerns and are a robust cross section of the comprehensive actions needed to increase resiliency. Working together, these organizations and communities collectively strengthen that resilience. Just as fire needs fuel and is emboldened by the wind, resilience needs action and is carried by our communities' spirit.

Some grantees are using their funds for multiple projects. These projects are listed in the text, in addition to the one illustrated. Many projects are currently underway in preparation for the traditional Santa Ana fire season.

The Projects

projects 1,2, and 3

1. TreePeople Land Trust (TPLT) - $30,000. Funds will be used for fuel modification on land within the high-fire severity zones in the Santa Monica Mountains. Invasive plants like short pod mustard and ripgut are highly flammable and degrade the native plant communities. These invasive plants act like “flashy fuels” and ignite quickly. TPLT work includes weed abatement, hazardous tree treatment, mulching, and deadwooding. TPLT will purchase new equipment which enable the Fuel Modification Technicians to complete this work more efficiently, Funds also will allow for two new interns who are knowledgeable in native plant ecology.

2. Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians (FTBMI) - $50,000. The Tataviam, the people facing the sun, is the historic tribe of northern Los Angeles County. The tribe's ancestral villages are from the San Fernando Valley, Santa Clarita, east Simi Hills, and Antelope Valley. Fernandeño refers to descendants of Tataviam people who were forced to leave their homes and register with Mission San Fernando. With the arrival of the Spanish the Tataviam faced genocide, enslavement, and relocation, thus losing their land. With this grant FTBMI will provide a Native American Monitor (NAM) to observe ground moving work that occurs on their ancestral lands during fire prevention projects. In addition to having knowledge of the types of objects which might be unearthed, a NAM has a specific understanding of the tribe’s culture and ceremony, and a deep understanding of place. They have the power to immediately halt any work once a cultural resource has been uncovered.

3. City of Hidden Hills - $250,000. Funds will be used towards the cost of undergrounding 8 electrical poles. Malfunctioning power lines and electrical utility equipment have been responsible for many ignitions in recent years. Notably, SoCal Edison’s equipment started the destructive Woolsey Fire in 2018, which directly impacted this region. The Woolsey Fire killed three people, destroyed over 1600 homes, and forced over 295,000 people to evacuate. Undergrounding poles reduces the risk of an accidental ignition.

projects 4, 5, and 6

4. City of Westlake Village - $170,000. Grant will be used for brush clearance with goats, using around 150 goats in hard-to-reach areas. Funds will also be used for replacing some landscape around the Civic Center for added resiliency, upgrades to communications equipment to improve stable connections out in the field and at the City’s Emergency Operations Center, including improvements to the EOC’s generator.

5. California Emergency Mobile Patrol (CEMP) - $50,000. Grant money will be used to purchase a new vehicle and safety and emergency equipment. The vehicle and supplies will enable CEMP to increase its red- flag patrol, and to provide increased support for public agencies before, during, and after wildfire season.

6. Conejo Open Space Conservation Agency (COSCA) $125,000. Funds will be used for the removal of invasive arundo and Mexican fan palm from the Arroyo Conejo creek bed. These invasives are highly flammable and squeeze out the less flammable native plants. Dry palm fronds can ignite, loosen from the tree, and be carried by the wind to create new spot fires ahead of the fire line.

projects 7, 8, and 9

7. LA Conservation Corps (LACC) - $250,000. LACC will use funds to support other land agencies in vegetation management- brush clearance and the planting of native coast live oaks. These oaks can “catch” embers which often travel a mile or more ahead of the fire line. This causes spot fires to erupt and expand the fire’s perimeter. Coast live oaks can slow the rate and spread of fire, acting as a natural firebreak.

8. Corral Canyon Fire Safety Alliance (CCFSA) - $230,000, Funds will be used towards the construction of Fire Station 271, which will house Call Fire Engine 271 and a patrol vehicle. This Call Firefighter program for Corral Canyon was established in 2010 by community members. The Corral Canyon Community provides their own community funded Fire Apparatus and the Fire Station Facility, while LaCoFD provides training for the firefighters and maintenance for the equipment.

9. Mountains Recreation Conservation Authority (MRCA) - $8,000,000. The MRCA will use funds for 5 projects- Vegetation Management and Oak Tree Planting, Ignition and Spread Prevention, Workforce Development, Structure Hardening, and an Inspection and Monitoring program. The workforce development includes training for fire volunteers for a new 10-person seasonal crew. This new crew will be used for incident response, treatment, and fire suppression.

projects 10, 11, and 12

10. Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District (RSRPD) - $395,000. Funds will be used to remove dead or dying trees, burnt materials from the Woolsey Fire, and flammable invasive species (including tobacco plant illustrated above) from three segments of Medea Creek. Additionally, an oak tree fire break will be planted, and a skid steer loader procured to assist with fire resiliency projects.

11. California Conservation Corps (CCC) - $500,000. CCC will work on vegetation management with open space managers. Grant will fund fuel modification which reduces highly flammable invasives and increases fire resistant native species, such as coast live oaks. Although no plant is fireproof, oaks are extremely fire resilient. Their evergreen leaves and thick bark resists burning, as opposed to dried out invasive plants that are highly flammable.

12. Friends of Arson Watch- $26,000. Funds will be used to upgrade the existing radio program to allow members to communicate even when power and internet is out, as is often the case during an active fire event. Upgrades include the addition of a repeater on Catalina Island to enhance radio coverage, backup radio batteries, solar installations for charging batteries, and additional commercial band licenses and certifications.

projects 13, 14, and 15

13. Barbareño/ Venturenño Band of Mission Indians (BVBMI) - $50,000. BVBMI is a tribe comprised of Chumash people from Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties. Wildfire prevention work will take place on ancestral lands of the BVBMI, where cultural resources such as stone tools, mortars and pestles, beads, and human remains may be found within the earth. Funds will allow for a Native American Monitor to survey and observe ground disturbing activities, and halt work if a cultural resource is unearthed.

14. City of Agoura Hills - $362,025. Funds will be used towards a mobile command post and trailer, upgrades to Emergency Community Room and Center, home hardening, and new technology- FlameMapper software. FlameMapper will allow the city to map the real-time path of travel an active fire is taking, thus allowing better communication, decision making and response as the event unfolds.

15. City of Malibu - $324,000. Dead and dying trees exist within the Woolsey burn scar, many of them near homes, streets, and other public areas. This dead vegetation is hazardous as it acts as fuel for another wildfire. Funds will be used to remove hazardous trees and allow the city to offer free removal of hazard trees on residents’ property. The City will also hold free Community Chipper and Green Waste Days, a safe way to dispose of fire- hazardous green waste.

projects 16, 17, and 18

16. Community Nature Connection (CNC) - $250,000. Funds will support training programs about wildfire to those who might otherwise not have access to this information. Online training will be in English with simultaneous interpretation available in Spanish. Subjects include wildfire resilience, wildfire safety and awareness, defensible space, fire ecology, safe recreation during fire season, and fire resilient landscaping.

17. City of Calabasas - $450,000. The grant will be used for the Agoura Hills/ Calabasas Community Center, bolstering its capabilities as a Joint Emergency Operations center for Calabasas and for neighboring cities in the event their EOCs are not available during a wildfire. Improvements include a generator, communications equipment, and structure hardening.

18. Conejo Recreation and Park District (CRPD) - $110,815. Funds will be used to acquire a water tender. The water tender will contribute to the area’s fire safety and resiliency by supplying a mobile 2,500 gallon water supply.