Tuesday, June 16. 2009
Over 1600 fires are started each year by people cutting grass, weeds, and "brush". It's important to have that defensible space around your home, but please use your brains before doing the work. We do get rain here in San Diego county during the winter months. That is when you should be doing your outdoor trimming work. It's not worth a fire just to have your landscaping look perfect all summer. If you would plant drought-tolerant plants it won't grow during the summer, anyway. So trim it in the winter and then leave it alone once things dry out.
Better yet, use hand tools. How many people use power tools for their yard work and then go to the gym to "exercise"? What a farce! My wife uses hand clippers, a big pair of loppers, and a small pruning saw to trim the deadwood from plants within 100 feet of our house. They are so quiet that she can hear and enjoy the birds around her as she works.
Friday, February 20. 2009
wildbird in Laws & Regulations
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[This note from Kay Stewart, Landscape architect and native plant activist, was posted to the CNPSSD listserv. It is reprinted with her permission. This is a terribly important issue, and not just for greenies. If your house is in the potential path of a wildfire you should be paying attention and not just trusting your government to do the right thing.]
We were talking about starting to list inconsistencies in the City of San Diego's Brush Management regulations and the fact that if you apply one, you end up with very different outcomes than if you apply the other:
Please open the Fire and Emergency Dept. Clarification FPB Policy B-08-1.
Now please open the Bulletin #1 Guide.
This means that in coastal sage scrub, or maritime succulent scrub, where most of plants are 4' or shorter, the end result will be 12" high hat racks standing in the groupings, with 6" stumps between them. I think type conversion seems likely, what do you think? Monitoring will tell; but by then three more years will have passed, and several thousand more acres gone to weed, if that is true.
So, though I didn't realize it, I had made a choice without thinking about it: I've been using the Clarification as my guide. Maybe those who wrote the regulations would say I chose the wrong one. But perhaps I chose the rule that makes the most sense. Why should taller vegetation types be left with groupings of viable plants, but shorter plant communities be guaranteed to be destroyed? Why would the policy encourage type conversion of the shrubs that could suppress highly flammable weeds which grow much taller than the native shrubs will, and which pose much more danger to homes as a result?
Maybe, also, I was trusting that Bulletin #1 reflected a City policy that really does care about the quality of the wildlands, as it says on page 2 about the concerns in creating Zone 2, that it is to be done "...without harming native plants, soil or habitats, as described on the reverse side of this Bulletin."
p.s.: I just saw the below (verbatim) on the Fire and Emergency Services website. After you read these, I wonder, does anyone else besides me wonder what is going on? Since when did Brush earn the title of "the predominant native plant community"? What does the age of a plant have to do as a measure of flammability? When was this written and who wrote it? Can we find out?
"Brush" is the predominant native plant community in the canyons of Southern California. When adjacent to homes, brush management is required to protect the the homes from wild fire. Inspections of brush-covered areas adjacent to buildings are performed on a complaint basis only.
The predominant plant community in the canyons of southern California, comprised of shrubby plants that have adapted to dry summers and moist winters.
Fire Resistant Plants
A plant that is less flammable than another containing the same amount of fuel. This can be a consequence of the live-to-dead fuels ratio, the oil and resin content of the foliage, the percent of fuel moisture, or the age of the plants
[Kay also asked that I add the following]
The City of San Diego is trying so much harder to preserve native plants than most juriscitions. Unfortunately, the regulations have contradictory instructions. I and others hope to bring these contradictions to the attention of the City, and then work with legal and other writers so clear guidelines result. I sincerely hope they will result in WUI low-fire-risk zones with more slow-growing native shrubs being left to suppress exotic fast-growing weeds.
Saturday, January 24. 2009
wildbird in Laws & Regulations
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Here is a video you might find interesting. It features scenes from the chaparral as well as before/after pictures of wildfires.
The audio is excerpts from the Planning Commission meeting from January 9th. You can see my entry from the 10th to learn more about it. In this video you will hear a lot of testimony from experts and homeowners alike stating that clearing, masticating, burning large acreages of chaparral will do immense harm to the environment and will do absolutely nothing to make you and I safer. I might add that it will burn up many millions of dollars which could have been used for good. Instead it is being used for evil. That's your government, San Diego county. (You will hear one voice of reason from the Planning Commission, Michael Beck, who understands the great responsibility that is on his shoulders and who carries it with courage.)
I would like to thank Rick Halsey from the Chaparral Institute for all the hard work he put into making this video. You can find out more about the ongoing struggle to talk some sense into a cowardly and panic-stricken county government on his Slash and Burn page.
Thursday, January 15. 2009
Jon Keely, a scientist employed by USGS, has issued a new paper on the Causes of Large Shrubland Wildfires. You should read it. There is a lot of good info there. One of the things that caught my eye is this paragraph:
That would seem to run counter to the words of the head bureaucrat at the county who surprised a whole room full of scientists and land managers by claiming that young chaparral burns much slower than old chaparral, using that claim to justify burning many thousands of acres of old growth chaparral. (January 9th at the Planning Commission.) Perhaps someone can suggest that Mr. Oberbauer meet with Mr. Keely and get his head straightened out.
Saturday, January 10. 2009
I attended a San Diego County Planning Commission meeting yesterday and it was a real eye-opener. It seems that the county Board of Supervisors asked to have a plan drawn up for destroying chaparral in some lame attempt to reduce wildfires. A committee of bureaucrats was assigned to the task and it was to be supervised by the planning commission. At yesterday's meeting the committee presented their plan to the commission.
I was at one of the committee meetings while the plan was being worked on and was rather distressed that they seemed to be ignoring the input of knowledgeable scientist and land managers. Sure enough, the plan that they presented to the planning commission was wrong headed, is likely to endanger more lives than it saves, and will destroy forever some of the most amazingly diverse and surprisingly pristine landscape in the United States.
Nearly all of the testimony was by experts in either wildfires, ecology, or both. And nearly all of the testimony was in opposition to the destructive reduction of wild vegetation. Only two people did not oppose it. One was neutral and one didn't exactly endorse the plan, but rather seemed to endorse a return to the past where grazing animals roamed the land. All of the testimony was articulate, well thought-out and backed by personal knowledge and study. The testimony was overwhelming and I was very relieved that all of those PhDs were on the same side as I was. I could not imagine how the county could go forward with this moronic plan.
But five of the six planning commissioners present rubber stamped it and sent it on to the Board of Supervisors! I overheard comments about wanting to get to lunch. If you are unable to evacuate before the next fire and survive it, please remember that your planning commission considered their lunch to be more important than your safety.
My hat is off to Commissioner Michael Beck, who behaved with honor and intelligence to try and stop this dangerous and destructive plan from moving forward.
The plan put forward by the committee paid lip service to some very important issues such as power lines, the wildland/urban interface, and fire hardening of homes. But the primary reason the committee was formed and the primary focus of their plan (and of the opposition to it) was "brush" clearing in the wildlands. For some inexplicable reason, Supervisor Horn seems to have a beef against a bunch of plants. Maybe he resents that the plants are smarter than he is; I don't know. But he decided we need to clear hundreds of thousands of acres of "brush" and tacitly instructed this committee to mold the plan so that it looks scientific and yet does the maximum amount of damage that can be done.
I think Supervisor Horn does not understand wildfires. And not understanding them, he fears them. And his reaction to fear is to "Burn it all!" That is backward and completely inappropriate in a society which sends intelligent people to school so that they can understand it. For him to ignore those people is foolish. It's hubris. And government by hubris is bad government.
The chaparral is an amazingly complex ecosystem. It has evolved to survive in a very inhospitable environment. Blazing heat; long, dry summers; very poor soils; etc. It takes a very intricate and finely tuned system to survive here in the long term. To try and "treat" it with third world slash-and-burn techniques is barbaric. The "gossamer web of life" (as described by Greg Rubin) will be destroyed and replaced by faster burning weeds. Ick.
But in addition to the damage it will do to this fragile ecosystem, this plan will not do a single thing to make us safer and will probably increase the danger for many of us. One committee member, Tom Oberbauer, said that “young fuels burn slower than older fuels.” This is a blatant fabrication calculated to head off one of my chief concerns which I expressed in a previous meeting. What should grow up after a fire are returning chaparral species, but what actually grows up after a fire are invasive weeds and grasses which grow fast, dry out and burn like, well, like wildfire. And I think the absolute worst case would be areas which are degraded but not totally type-converted, where all that grass and weeds moves the fire quickly through broken chaparral, actually adding to the fuel load. So the "treated" areas (burned or masticated) will not stop the fires. I expect that fires which re-burn these "treated" areas will burn much faster than fires in pure stands of chaparral and could reduce the available evacuation times in our cities from hours (which we currently have) to minutes.
Mr. Oberbauer and Supervisor Horn, how are we going to evacuate in minutes? Where is your plan for that?
Thursday, December 11. 2008
Earlier this year a county planning group released a paper titled "EAST COUNTY MSCP PLAN WILDFIRE ISSUE PAPER". You can read it by clicking here. This paper proposes a method of burning the living landscape in a patchwork "mosaic" as a means of controlling the spread of wildfires. This third world slash-and-burn technique is too simplistic and brutish to apply to the very complex living chaparral and it will do nothing to save us from wildfires.
The mosaic technique was developed after much research in forested ecosystems and probably does work in those landscapes. But the scientific consensus is that it would be a disaster to apply it in chaparral ecosystems. It will cause significant damage to the ecosystems, but will provide no added fire protection. Look at the Witch fire of 2007. It burned unhindered through all types of vegetation: old growth, regrown, degraded, and recently burned chaparral as well as total weed beds. When the Santa Ana blast furnace gets started, anything dry burns.
If these mosaic burns are done, the burned areas will re-grow with a load of weeds and grasses which die and dry out in the summer and will burn even faster than live chaparral, making it very difficult to get out of the way of an approaching fire. Evacuation times in front of a Santa Ana driven blaze could change from hours in a chaparral wildfire to minutes in a weedy wildfire. How are we going to evacuate whole cities in minutes?
Folks, if you want to protect yourselves from fire, you must look at your own home. The rules are very simple and they are something we all can do:
While a house built in a dangerous location may still burn even after these preparations, the large majority of houses are not in such dangerous locations and should survive unscathed.
What the county SHOULD be doing is consolidating development into defensible neighborhoods and then creating adequate protection around those neighborhoods. It is nice to be able to go out into the back country and build yourself a home - makes one think of the 1800s, doesn't it? But this is not the 19th century, it is the 21st century and there are swarms of people here in southern California. We simply can no longer act like we are pioneers still living in the 19th century. It is simply unrealistic to be scattering dwellings throughout the wildlands.
Tuesday, April 8. 2008
wildbird in Laws & Regulations
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I just heard that SB1618 has been killed! (See earlier entry for more info.) That is very good news. Thanks to everyone who wrote, called, or emailed their objections. We must still be vigilant because these things have a way of popping back up again, but right now it is very good news.
I think we should celebrate by thanking Rick Halsey for his hard work in defeating this bill, and also Senators Kehoe and Steinberg for opposing it in the committee. You can thank Rick through his website: californiachaparral.org. You can thank the senators by sending your letters or faxes here:
Honorable Senator Darrell Steinberg
Honorable Senator Christine Kehoe
You can find their email addresses here: SENATE EMAILS
Saturday, April 5. 2008
The California state Senate is putting together an anti-wildfire bill. Naturally, when a body of such important and busy people gets together they want to do big things and don't have time to actually learn about the problem they are trying to solve. Oh, and of course they must write legislation that will create more opportunities for big businesses to fleece the public.
Current laws generally suggest a 100 foot defensible space around most structures. Amazingly, that current law is pretty well thought out. It must have been written in a sane and sensible time. A properly constructed 100 foot defensible space is about optimum. Too little and a fire might burn right up to your house. Too much and the slow burning chaparral plants cannot protect you from that storm of embers that is blowing towards your house. And any poorly maintained defensible space is really worse than nothing at all: dried out grasses and weeds are far more flammable than most native chaparral plants.
So what's the problem? The problem is that the senate wants to require a 300 foot cleared space. That is irrational, but they're going to do it if we don't stop them. A 300 foot clearing around every house will not save houses. In fact, it may actually be the cause of more house fires during wildfire events. What it will do is to decimate more of our native ecosystem and line the pockets - no, stuff the pockets - of the corporations who sell and use "brush" clearing equipment. If we have to clear 300 feet from every house around our little acre and a half of chaparral it will all be gone - and so will we. I have my scruples; there's no way I would live in a state that would do something like this.
And what can we do about it? You can go to the California State Senate website and drop your senator an email expressing your objection to the 300 foot clearance. Here's the link to their email addresses: http://www.sen.ca.gov/~newsen/senators/senemail.htp
Dear fellow naturalist,
From time to time we do what we can to help our local leaders better understand the importance of the natural environment and why it is crucial in maintaining our quality of life. Next Tuesday the Natural Resources and Water Committee of the California State Senate will be holding a hearing on a bill that will have a serious impact on our rights to enjoy nature around our homes. The bill is sponsored by Senator Hollingsworth (SB 1618) and will allow excessive “clearance” distances to be required around homes (300 feet of bare dirt and seriously compromising up to 1000 feet of habitat).
This is the wrong approach to fire safety. The use of excessive clearance distances is not only counterproductive to our efforts to reduce fire risk, but creates a whole host of additional problems.
Let’s kill this bill in committee.
If you have a chance this over the next two days, please take a moment and express your concern by FAXING a note to the Chair of the Committee and any other member you choose. The Committee hearing is Tuesday morning, so your thoughts should be sent no later than noon this Monday (4/7). Here are the Committee member’s names and FAX numbers:
If you have a chance this weekend, please take a moment and express your concern by FAXING a note to the Chair of the Committee and any other member you choose. The Committee hearing is Tuesday morning, so your thoughts should be sent no later than noon this Monday (4/7). Here are the Committee member’s names and FAX numbers:
Here’s the bill:
It's easy to send an email and some faxes. Please do it. This is important!
Monday, March 24. 2008
Power lines have started many wildfires in southern California, including some really big killers. But the power companies just can't seem to face up to their responsibility.
So I guess they'll just keep burning our houses down until we all wake up and put a stop to it.
Thursday, March 20. 2008
We have been studying wildfires and how they cause house fires since 2003 when we had the rude awakening of the Cedar fire, which burned thousands of homes and killed many people. We have read, listened to, and directly consulted with many experts. Much of what we have learned has been counter-intuitive, meaning that people who don't study will probably get it wrong. Here another expert explains why you don't need extensive clearings around your home and why you do need to pay attention to the construction of the house itself:
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