by Shanti Edwards
When I recently interviewed CAL FIRE Battalion Chief Marshall Turbeville about lessons learned from the 2017 fires, he said “We have to go back to what works: loud sirens and neighbors contacting neighbors.” Marshall advises us that community level, neighbor-to-neighbor planning will be essential in the years to come because extreme fire weather seems to be the future in California.
“We are good at putting out average fires, but we are trending toward catastrophic events driven by weather conditions. History did repeat itself and will again,” he warns. “The large fires of 1964 and 1978 are just one generation away and people forget — but we can’t forget.”
We took Marshall’s guidance to heart and recently convened a gathering to connect with Cazadero neighbors who live near Sonoma Land Trust’s Little Black Mountain and Pole Mountain Preserves. This was a rare opportunity to share a conversation as a group about emergency notification systems, potential evacuation routes, fuel reduction strategies and all things relevant to our rural mountain community. Marshall was in attendance to provide expert advice for defensible space and emergency response planning, and Jeff Schreiber of Sonoma RCD introduced landowner assistance programs for fuel reduction and road improvement.
As follow-up, the Land Trust is working with Marshall to develop an emergency plan map and phone tree for the neighborhood — a necessary first step in protecting the human communities that surround our wildland preserves. If we can be a convener and conduit of information for our nearby neighbors, we think this is an important role to play.
Over the years, the Land Trust has focused on fuel reduction projects (in partnership with CAL FIRE, Conservation Corps North Bay, USDA and FireSafe Sonoma) to improve forest health and wildlife habitat, and maintain defensible space and emergency access corridors at the Little Black Mountain Preserve. We installed water storage tanks with hydrant outlets and developed a fire preparedness plan and map for the local fire department. These efforts are necessary in a thickly forested landscape recovering from the intensive logging of the 1950s and the forest-stand replacing fire of 1978 — and continue to be a high stewardship priority today.
We are actively managing our forests and grasslands for ecological integrity and wildfire resiliency. As fire ecologists distill their recommendations, we’ll be applying those lessons learned across our protected lands.
For more information about defensible space recommendations, please go to:
Shanti Edwards is stewardship project manager for Sonoma Land Trust.
Sonoma Land Trust is a local nonprofit based in Santa Rosa, CA, that conserves scenic, natural, agricultural and open lands in Sonoma County for the benefit of the community and future generations. This blog focuses on SLT's stewardship team, whose members do hands-on work to directly protect, restore, and safeguard the land for generations to come.