Sonoma County is the home of many organizations--some private, some under the aegis of the county--that are dedicated to the health of the environment and to keeping the land safe for every kind of life. In the last five years, several of these groups have been involved in an effort to educate the public and find ways to reduce the risk of wildfires.
AG + Open Space "is responsible for the perpetual protection of over 117,000 acres of working, natural, and scenic open space lands in Sonoma County." The mission is to "permanently protect[s] the diverse agricultural, natural resource, and scenic open space lands of Sonoma County for future generations."
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors tapped Ag + Open Space to administer the Vegetation Management Project Grant Program.
Ag + Open Space Sonoma County
3. Increase local capacity to effectively manage
fuel loads countywide. Rationale: Manage natural, agricultural, and urban-interface lands
to prevent build-up of dangerous fuel loads, enhance environmental benefits, and protect escape routes.
actions identified by working groups include:
a. Create and maintain firebreaks that provide multiple benefits beyond fuel load reduction, including agriculture, recreation, biodiversity, water supply and quality, and carbon sequestration
b. Expand local capacity for utilizing prescribed burns to manage fuels and maintain healthy ecosystems
c. Increase landowner education on best management practices for fuels within the wildland-urban interface zone, using workshops, example projects, etc.
d. Support establishment of Forest Health Districts or a similar mechanism to provide structure, funding, and resources for rural landowners to collectively manage forest lands in an ecologically sound manner
e. Explore biomass energy options for mechanically removed fuel loads
(excerpt from 2018 report, which includes the following disclaimer: "A wide variety of experts provided recommendations, and the report includes the highest agreed upon priorities, but does not represent any one organization, nor does it reflect consensus among the participating organizations.")
Fire Forward, a program of Audubon Canyon Ranch, works with private landowners, public agencies and conservation partners around a shared purpose of effective fuel management. See their video below on how they fight fire with fire.
Sonoma County Forest Conservation Working Group started after a 2005 meeting convened by Sonoma Land Trust to discuss small, private parcels of forest in Sonoma County. They "work to perpetuate sustainable, healthy, and diverse forests, woodlands and watersheds across the Sonoma County landscape, and to be a catalyst, source of information, and point of contact for forestland owners."
Pepperwood, a 3200-acre preserve located on a ridgeline of the Mayacamas Mountains, is home for over 900 species of plants and animals. It is focused on "ecosystem-climate research, producing critical science to help guide our region's natural resource management and conservation planning."
Its Fire Mitigation and Forest Health goal is to "demonstrate best practices [for fire mitigation] on the preserve and to leverage Pepperwood’s role in research, outreach, collaborations, and technical advising to expand these throughout our region." It conducts symposia and workshops and serves as a resource for other groups within the county.
"Pepperwood has created a comprehensive peer-reviewed Adaptive Management Plan for our preserve that will serve as a guide for other open spaces in the region. Its 200+ pages provide insights into stewarding different types of ecosystems and detail how we monitor plant and animal life over time..."
Sonoma Valley Wildlands Collaborative consists of six conservation organizations and land management agencies that work together with CAL FIRE to to manage 18,000 acres of natural lands in the Sonoma Valley. With a focus on ecological health and resilience, the Collaborative helps "protect the communities of the Sonoma Valley in the event of future wildfires."
CAL FIRE awarded the Collaborative more than $1 million in 2019, with the goal of conducting controlled burns, clearing brush, and thinning forests.
Parks located in Sonoma County, whether regional or state parks, have been ravaged by wildfires in the last few years. Out-of-control fires have blazed through and caused significant damage in Shiloh, Foothill, and Hood Mountain Regional Parks as well as Sugarloaf Ridge and Trione Anadel State Parks and Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve.
Sonoma County Regional Parks have acted to moderate the severity of damage from future wildfires, through controlled burns, using grazing animals to keep vegetation in check, and planned construction of shaded fuel breaks.