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Old Baldy, Canada | photo by Cameron Schaus
Conservation Issues of the Ventana Chapter | monterey county

The Los Padres National Forest and the Ventana Wilderness

Club participates in FireScape wildfire planning for Los Padres National Forest

August 2011

by Mike Splain

It's no secret that our corner of the Los Padres National Forest desperately needs a formalized wildfire management plan. Without clearly defined objectives and protocols, every ignition leads to a crisis. Fortunately, District Ranger Sherry Tune has drawn on her vast knowledge (gained from prior wildfire experience on Arizona's Coronado National Forest) to develop a formal management plan.

Fire Demonstration
Joe Rawitzer (CDF- retired) and USFS Battalion Chief Mike Strawhun demonstrate fuel flammability at Big Sur Station. Photo: Mike Splain

The planning process is called FireScape (Fire Integration in Restoration Ecology using Science and a Collaborative Approach with a Partnership Emphasis). It began in early March with two workshops in Big Sur Valley. Participants included local homeowners and fire personnel, as well as agency employees, scientific researchers, and conservation advocates from the California Wilderness Project, Ventana Wilderness Alliance, and of course, Sierra Club.

These initial workshops focused on developing a geographic scope and identifying targets for the FireScape process. The group agreed on six primary targets: 1) fire-adapted human communities, 2) watersheds, 3) fire-adapted / fire-sensitive biotic communities, 4) riparian areas, 5) cultural resources, and 6) aesthetics and wilderness qualities. Subsequent workshops identified threats to these targets and opportunities to protect them.

The emphasis on "fire-adapted human communities" with defensible space around homes has been promising. Pre-suppression fuel treatments, as well as fire line creation and maintenance are likely outcomes of the process. It is heartening that the vast majority of participants have expressed sincere concern for healthy watersheds and wilderness values. In an effort to ensure that fuel treatments on public lands are applied with maximum effectiveness and minimum resource damage, the Ventana Chapter is committed to working with the FireScape process through to implementation.

A common theme that has surfaced throughout FireScape workshops is the need for more data. The complex topography of the northern Santa Lucia Range precludes a "one size fits all" approach to fire management. Anyone who has ever hiked in the backcountry knows the limitations of maps as a planning tool. To address this knowledge gap, we have been manually documenting fire breaks and hand lines within public lands. The end result will be a geo-referenced photodocumentary (in publicly-available Google Earth format) that should prove invaluable for future planning, implementation and emergency response.

Please stay tuned for updates as FireScape approaches completion. For more information contact Ventana Chapter Wilderness Chair, Mike Splain- .

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