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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on February 7th, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 49 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 18, Issue 49

Los Padres combs through proposals for restoration work in areas affected by Zaca, Piru, and Jesusita fires

By SPENCER COLE

A decade after three fires scorched swaths of the Los Padres National Forest, plans are finally being laid to repair the damage.

The forest and its nonprofit partner, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), announced on Jan. 10 it would accept proposals for a third round of funding available to the Los Padres through the Wildfires Restoration Program—a multi-year management and investment program dedicated to fire recovery on forest lands. According to Jim Bond, NFWF’s manager of Southern California forests, the nonprofit awarded more than $4 million for at least 25 restoration projects and generated an additional $2.5 million in matching funds since 2015.


FIRE AND FUNDING
The Zaca Fire burned more than 240,000 acres in the summer of 2007. This year, the Los Padres National Forest is accepting project proposals to repair some of the damaged wildland.
FILE PHOTO

“The impacts from these fires can last quite a long time and the Forest Service can only do so much in a given year, and if more fires pop up, coupled with mandated furloughs and things like that, their schedule and ability to address all the needs of forest can sometimes shrink,” Bond told the Sun.

The Zaca, Piru, and, Jesusita fires burned more than 280,000 acres some 10 years ago, significantly damaging land, watersheds, and ecosystems in the region, according to the Forest Service. All three fires were eventually determined to be human caused, and representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture eventually sued the parties responsible. The culpable entities later settled for millions of dollars with the department and its subsidiary entity, the Los Padres.

But while the influx of cash is a boon for a forest that reserves roughly three-quarters of its budget for fighting fires, additional resources are needed to complete the work in a timely manner. That’s where the NFWF comes in, which serves as a de facto middleman between the Los Padres and nonprofits and environmental groups to help determine the most pressing restoration projects needed.

Los Padres Public Information Officer Andrew Madsen told the Sun that the settlement funds could only be used on areas directly or indirectly impacted by the fire. He said the fire damage mitigation proposals came from environmental groups such as the Los Padres Forest Association, Channel Islands Restoration, and UC Santa Barbara.

Nate Rezeau, Los Padres’ Santa Lucia District ranger, said those groups had submitted initial proposals at the end of January this year and staff would work to narrow down the most feasible projects by March 8. The program expects to award approximately $2 million in 2018, with grants ranging in size from $25,000 to $250,000 per project. A ratio of matching contributions offered is considered during the process, according to the Forest Service. For example, projects are expected to meet or exceed a 50 percent match ratio to be competitive, with priority given to projects that meet or exceed a 1-to-1 match ratio.

Rezeau said the partnership with NFWF and the other agencies and nonprofits allowed the Forest Service to take its resource capacity to another level.

“We’ve got limited staff resources,” he said, “so having NFWF partner with us and bring in extra organizations allows us to get more done as far as these restoration projects.”

Bond told the Sun that more than 50 miles of trail had been repaired in fire damaged areas since 2015, which included the removal of invasive species, such as the tamarisk bush, that sprouted up like weeds in the scarred earth.

Los Padres Ecosystems, Fuels, and Prescribed Fire Staff Officer Susan Shaw explained in a phone interview that she couldn’t “begin to list” all the invasive species in the affected watersheds and wildland.

“It’s important to get the natural vegetation back on the landscape,” she said.

Once the proposal process is complete, the approved projects will have until the summer of 2019 to be completed. However, the grant program will return for another round of funding through May 2020.

“From a land management standpoint, this is a smart and wise use of dollars for the most efficient kind of land management and restoration type of projects that we could do,” Rezeau said. “It’s a way of being able to widely use these settlement restoration dollars in a way that engages our community. These organizations usually have unique and cutting edge ways of being able to assess, model, and develop new techniques for these projects, along with added capacity of being able to get this work done in the timeframe we have.”

All U.S. Forest personnel emphasized that the work would have nothing to do with the recent Thomas Fire, the largest wildfire in California history, because the cause of the fire had yet to be determined, thus no settlement had yet been reached with the responsible parties.

The work done in the Los Padres to restore previously damaged areas is essential to practical land management, they said.

“This is a partnership for us that is yielding great results,” Madsen said. “What we are able to do in a few year period with NFWF would otherwise take us 15 to 20 years—so the [grant program] is huge.” 

Staff Writer Spencer Cole can be reached at scole@santamariasun.com.




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