The Conservancy Board authorizes disbursement of up to $150,000 to Sonoma Land Trust to conduct wildfire risk reduction activities on the Little Black Mountain Preserve, Laufenberg Ranch, Pole Mountain Preserve, and Live Oaks Ranch properties in Sonoma County.
The proposed project would reduce fire hazards on Sonoma Land Trust’s preserves by returning approximately 55 acres of forest preserve lands to a more natural and fire resilient condition, breaking the continuity of forest fuels, vertically and horizontally, and reducing the rate of fire spread, intensity, duration, and risk of crown fire. Vegetation management methods will include shaded fuel break creation and management, roadway clearing, and forest thinning. All activities will be conducted by hand crews using methods such as loppers and chainsaws. Additionally, Sonoma Land Trust will enhance native oak woodland habitat, by hand-removing encroaching firs and caging select oaks to protect them from herbivory until they grow above the deer browse line.
Shaded fuel breaks will consist of removing shrubs and understory trees, reducing surface and ladder fuels, within 100 feet of existing roads or fire breaks, reducing fire fuel loads and creating safe places for firefighters to stage equipment and fight wildfire. Trees under 8” in diameter at breast height (“DBH”) will be felled. For trees over 8” DBH, hand crews will remove lower limbs, creating space between trees. In oak woodlands, the focus will be on removing encroaching firs and bay trees to promote woodland health.
Shaded fuel break maintenance will be conducted by hand crews using loppers and chainsaws to prune shrub, brush, and stump sprouting regrowth along existing roadways and to maintain the spacing, removed ladder fuels, and reduced surface fuels. Vegetated material will be left on site by lopping and scattering or chipping.
Hand crews will also clear roadways using loppers and chainsaws to remove shrubs, brush, and small diameter trees. Larger trees will be pruned to create and/or maintain a twelve-foot-wide by twelve-foot-high vegetation free area so that residents have safe emergency escape routes and fire-fighting crews can have safe access for their activities. A masticator operating from the road may be used for a portion of these activities.
Forest Thinning / Fire Fuel Reduction will be completed by hand crews using loppers and chainsaws to reduce fire fuels and increase space between trees. Trees 8” DBH and smaller will be cut down. In previously burned areas, bay and madrone resprouts with multiple stems will be pruned to 2 or 3 stems per tree. Material will be left on site by lopping and scattering and chipping.
These treatment activities have been reviewed by Sonoma Land Trust with CalFire staff and are identified in existing forest management plans prepared by Registered Professional Foresters. Maps from the forest management plans are provided in Exhibit 1. Project implementation will mostly occur outside of the bird nesting season. When that is not possible, a biologist will be hired to do nesting bird surveys in advance of the activity. Nest trees will be flagged and a buffer established. No vehicles or heavy equipment will be used off-road. Work in streams, creeks, and other water bodies will be avoided. No grading will occur and no soil disturbance is expected.
The work will occur on four Sonoma Land Trust preserves within the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI). These preserve properties have high habitat values and their locations are important for community safety in the adjacent populated areas of Jenner and Calistoga. Two lie in the west side of the Sonoma County, and two are on the east side.
The 500-acre Little Black Mountain Preserve (“LBM”) lies several miles west of the town of Cazadero and was almost completely consumed by the Creighton Ridge Fire in 1978. The Preserve’s forestlands are an even-aged thicket comprised of stump-sprouting hardwoods and conifers that need to be thinned for forest health and wildfire resilience. The ranch road on this Preserve serves as an important escape route for the local community.
Pole Mountain Preserve lies adjacent and south of LBM, Jenner Headlands Preserve, and Muniz Ranches subdivision. This 200-acre Preserve has a public trail that is well used to access unparalleled coastal views and is home to the Pole Mtn Fire Lookout, which provides fire detection services for the safety of the communities of west Sonoma County.
Laufenburg Ranch is 174 acres of grassland, oak woodland, mixed conifer, and agricultural lands in Knights Valley near the Napa-Sonoma county boundary. The Tubbs Fire burned up to its southern boundary and the Kincade Fire burned to its northern boundary. The Preserve is poised to serve as a demonstration site for fire resilience amongst a mosaic of habitat types and land uses.
The 572-acre Live Oaks Ranch (LOR) is on the eastern side of Knights Valley. The Tubbs Fire roared across the Preserve and the Glass Fire came very close. It is surrounded by hundreds of acres of protected lands and rural homes. The northwestern ridgeline of the Preserve offers a strategic location to enhance community safety by installing a shaded fuel break that separates Knights Valley from the nearby town of Calistoga.
Notice of Exemption
Type, Section or Code
Reasons for Exemption
Section 15304 (Minor Alterations) exempts projects that consist of minor alterations in the condition of land, water, and/or vegetation which do not involve removal of healthy, mature, scenic trees except for forestry and agricultural purposes.
Section 15269 (Emergency Projects) exempts emergency projects, including: emergency repairs to serviced facilities necessary to maintain service essential to the public health, safety, or welfare, including those repairs that require a reasonable amount of planning to address and anticipated emergency; and specific actions necessary to prevent or mitigate an emergency.