.Environmentalists Get $1M to Improve Local Wildfires Defenses

The Cal Fire grant to the Resource Conservation District of Santa Cruz County will fund the Lockhart Shaded Fuel Break, a vegetation management project

One of California’s oldest environmental groups has been tapped by California’s state fire agency to help protect Felton and Scotts Valley from wildfires.

The $970,000 Cal Fire grant to the Resource Conservation District of Santa Cruz County will fund a vegetation management project called the Lockhart Shaded Fuel Break in North County.

“Our long-term goal is to mimic historical landscapes with fewer but larger and healthier trees that can more effectively endure the impacts of drought and wildfire,” Angie Richman, forest health specialist with the Resource Conservation District, said in a release. “It can’t happen overnight, but the steps that we take today are critical to building the healthy forests of tomorrow.”

Officials say the project will create defensible space around the high fire risk communities of Felton and Scotts Valley and improve access routes to safety if a wildfire does break out.

The project area extends from Graham Hill Road inland to Upper Zayante in the heart of the San Lorenzo River Watershed and is bounded by Zayante Creek and Bean Creek.

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The Conservation District says it will work in partnership with the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County, the San Lorenzo Valley Water District, the City of Santa Cruz Water Department and the landowners to get the work done, including in the protected Santa Cruz Sandhills area.

Developing the Lockhart shaded fuel break will not only help protect against wildfire but promote the restoration of animal habitats, says Matt Timmer, the natural resource manager at the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County.

“The Land Trust has a vested interest in the project area, having protected nearly 500 acres for multiple conservation benefits including rare sandhills and wildlife movement,” he said in the release. “We are encouraged to see this important project move forward.”

They’ll have a lot of ground to cover.

That’s because the project involves going over about 95 acres of mountainous terrain.

While trees over eight inches in diameter will be spared, dead or dying trees will be eliminated, as will trees leaning over roads, to reduce the chance they’ll end up blocking vehicles during an emergency.

And deadfall will be removed to get rid of fuels that could supercharge a forest fire.

According to the San Lorenzo Valley Water District, reducing future wildfire risks will help protect these important drinking water resources.

“Fire is a major concern for the San Lorenzo Valley Water District and its communities,” said Rick Rodgers, the Water District’s Manager, in the release. “In the past PG&E, illegal activities, and natural disasters have triggered major fire events.”

The district gets groundwater from the Olympia Watershed just to the west of where the fuel break area work will happen, and Santa Cruz relies on the San Lorenzo River for most of its supply.

“The Lockhart shaded fuel break is incredibly important not only for water supply but also for protection of surrounding neighborhoods,” Rodgers said.

Permitting is expected to be completed next summer, with construction set for Spring 2024.


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