CTPZ Forest Preserve: The Sea Ranch Old Growth Forest Mimicry...
The Sea Ranch, Old Growth Forest Mimicry and Pre-Fire Vegetation Management Planning, CTPZ Forest Preserve, , March 2016
Authored by: Jeff Rebischung, owner Fine Tree Care
After working in the commercial timber industry, Jeff Rebischung founded Fine Tree Care in 1999 and currently works as a tree service contractor and Licensed Timber Operator in Sonoma County. He has worked closely with discerning private and commercial clients in developing plans and conducting timber operations. Much of his current work involves larger scale non-commercial timber operations in sensitive forest areas. Under his direction, Fine Tree Care has created economical vegetation management plans in Wildland Urban Interface areas when forest health, stream health, and community enjoyment of the areas are of primary concern to the landowners. Mr. Rebischung has also worked with Open Space Management Committees for very large Homeowners Associations who have implemented Fire Wise Communities when fire safety is paramount, and a high aesthetic result needed. His work includes training with Pete Martin of the Sonoma County Office of Emergency Services for activities such as fire science based derivation of county required vegetation management plans under the County standard for new home construction. Fine Tree Care has also worked within and above class I watercourses under the guidance of Cal-Fire inspectors, with Fish and Wildlife prescription, and has constructed erosion control measures that reliably last well beyond the time of harvest.
Relevant here, Mr. Rebischung’s forestry work specifically includes evaluating, quantifying, and then treating timberland to a county fire standard, both with and without timber operations, while generating the closest approximation of the setting to, or toward, a late seral stage old growth Redwood-Fir forest. His work maximizes forest health, maintains habitat, and is pleasing to humans. Mr. Rebischung does not anticipate the services of his crews will be offered to the Sea Ranch, rather, the work would be handled by the Sea Ranch Vegetation Management Crews themselves, as much of the necessary work can likely be achieved with the employees and equipment they currently have. It is possible the current forester could become involved as a project manager in the supervision of such a plan. The fire science models used are readily available, as is information about this approach. Several service providers offer this type of Urban Forestry/Pre-Fire work.
In January of 2016, Jeff Rebischung was contacted by a group of Association Members of The Sea Ranch regarding a Non Industrialized Timber Management Plan (NTMP) which had just been submitted to Cal-Fire, and subsequently returned to the submitting Registered Professional Forester (RPF) with approximately 48 enumerated remediation requirements. While there had been some notice by the Sea Ranch Board of Directors that tree removal would take place in the Central Timber Production Zone (CTPZ), the scale undertaken by the recently filed NTMP did not appear to those Association Members to be consistent with the presentation of a recent rule change, or their understanding of the intended use of their common property. The NTMP appeared contrary to ordinary Vegetation Management Protocols, inconsistent with longitudinal fuel modeling and fire science, and unnecessary to ensure the health of the forest as it related to the requirements of flora and fauna. In particular, the Association Members were unclear about why it had been deemed necessary to perform commercial logging activities rather than standard vegetation management activities, and questioned the wisdom of removing 30%-40% of the larger trees to obtain an old growth forest. Mr. Rebischung agreed to meet with the Association Members, hear their concerns, and review the CTPZ.
In February of 2016, under the terms of a subsequent consulting agreement with Mr. Rebischung to explore the feasibility of an alternative to an NTMP, Jeff Rebischung and his own highly qualified Registered Professional Forester reviewed a number of documents related to The Sea Ranch, Vegetation Management Plans, Forester Reports, and the NTMP itself. Mr. Rebischung reviewed the 8 forest types of the CTPZ during both dry and rainy weather, including the access roads, skid trails, watercourses, and adjacent properties in early 2016. Mr. Rebischung also consulted with Fire Fighters from the Cal-Fire station in that area, during which time, he reviewed the local burn history, weather patterns and coastal influences, and discussed the fuel loading and distribution of the CTPZ and adjacent areas. Mr. Rebischung also encountered quite a number of Sea Ranch Association Members in his time at The Sea Ranch. After reviewing other relevant documents and the property itself, it became apparent that a non-timber solution was desirable, and feasible.
Tone of Report
Forestry reports and technical descriptions of timber stock and regrowth rates are cumbersome and time consuming to understand. While understandable with some study, it can be helpful to have a non-technical summary. This intentionally “technically light” shaded forest management report is intended to outline the costs and benefits of management techniques which value fire safety, habitat retention, and recreation.
General Property Description and Evaluations
For brevity, the property and conditions under discussion have been described, evaluated, and inventoried in the following reports, and in additional materials. (See attached map, last page of this report)
1-16NTMP-001SON by Matt Greene
CTPZ Forest Management Plan dated 2009 by Edward Tunheim and Matt Greene.
McBride Report dated 2013
Dan Stark Report dated 2013
Matt Greene Report dated 2013
The Sea Ranch Community Wildfire Protection Plan dated 2010
The Sea Ranch Association Fuels Management Program dated 2002
Landowner Goals and Objectives
Each Association Member is an owner, and therefore a stakeholder in the CTPZ. Land uses are quoted in The Sea Ranch Rules, which rules were relatively recently changed in order to allow timber harvest in the CTPZ. In approximately August 2014, Association Members recall an Association Bulletin which described a need for a rule change and reported that an NTMP provision could enhance recreational uses and member enjoyment, be used for ongoing forest health maintenance, and for sustainable timber harvesting using limited, single tree selection. It was proffered that under the then current rules, no trees could be cut in the CTPZ, and no motorized vehicles were allowed other than those needed for fire, rescue, or Water Company maintenance. The bulletin stated that after voting to allow an NTMP, the Association would not allow clear cutting or other extreme forestry practices - - - only single tree selection.
The Association Bulletin describing the NTMP to Association Members purported its intent was to provide for the removal of diseased and dead trees, to reduce the fuel load for fire safety, and to move the forest towards a healthy, primarily redwood forest with strong old growth characteristics. Many believed that this meant taking out smaller broadleaf juveniles, fir seedlings and saplings, and smaller diameter Redwood sprouts and spurs, or hazard trees. And, it was possible that single trees would be selected to help advance the CTPZ toward an old growth forest. A description using this type of language would not indicate to the average lay person that the work specification as currently outlined in the NTMP could be contemplated. Even to many logging professionals, with such a description, it would not be understood that tree removal at an intensity of 30%-40% of trees larger than 18-inches in diameter was being described in such a young and sparse forest.
Only a few of the goals and objectives as stated in the NTMP, Tunheim Report, and other official reports match the goals and objectives of Sea Ranch Association Members who were encountered by happenstance, (between performing forest assessment) on trails, while walking in neighborhoods, and in the restaurant. Association Members believed the goals of the forest purchase in 1991 was access and recreation for members, good land stewardship for wildlife values, and to do so while ensuring fire safety for structures and aesthetics as viewed from homes and roadways within The Sea Ranch. The Association Members who were encountered by happenstance, each communicated goals and objectives that are quite similar to the Association Members who initially expressed concern to Mr. Rebischung about the proposed logging.
It is apparent that the common understanding of Members is the CTPZ property was purchased to provide a human and ecological buffer from logging activities to the east. There exists distinct recollections within the membership that the land was to be maintained as a forest preserve, and that all activities on the CTPZ be directed to the preservation and enhancement of its natural environment. Explicitly, no timber production was to occur, and the forest was to be allowed to progress to a climax Redwood-Fir forest. This forest succession was to occur with limited human intrusion, and with maintenance activities limited to those necessary to keep the forest safe. Essentially, the goals and objectives were to have a logging free area to enjoy over time, as the land repaired itself. Association Members expected that there would be costs and expense associated with maintenance of the property – not income.
The hikers and area residents all expressed a desire toward solace from the rigors of everyday life. Full time residents use the CTPZ for daily hikes with visitors and fitness activities, a place to walk the dog, or a short cut on a bicycle to go see a friend. Part time residents enjoy the departure from their inland homes in other counties and states, or their urban pace in the city, or to seek a moment away from the wind and noise of their oceanfront homes, as contrast to the western portion of The Sea Ranch. One resident felt the forest helped her mark time with her children and grandchildren, pointing out the moss covered stumps of yesteryear and remarking how she felt time slow down whilst among the large trees. She and her grandchildren enjoyed the deeper forests to the south side of the CTPZ, saying that there wasn’t much of a forest canopy at the north end, but it did have its own distinct wildlife viewing opportunities for them. Several Sea Ranch residents said they were notified there was a fire hazard related to the forest, and that the forest was somehow unhealthy, but they would need to rely upon the experts to determine health and safety. These residents did not believe the forest was unhealthy, nor did they admit to feeling unsafe while in it.
Land and Timber Resource History
The Sea Ranch was originally inhabited by tribes of Pomo Indians who were very active land managers, but they did not harvest large trees. Fire was used to shape and manipulate the landscapes where they lived. Such burning was usually low intensity and localized burns. This was due to the coastal influence coupled with the frequency of burning which also maintained lower fuel connectivity than today. Another factor was that the overstory shade canopy inhibited ladder fuel growth. (Today, oceanic influences ensure fairly constant year round temperatures and high moisture levels, with fog coverage common in the summer time. This condition ameliorates fire conditions, and aids fire-fighting efforts. The coastal influence is greater in northern California regions than areas further south such as Santa Cruz. This effect is significant in Sea Ranch, which is also bordered by the Gualala River to the east – a natural fire break, source of ambient moisture, and a fog track from the ocean.)
In the 1850’s smaller scale timber and fuelwood removal began, primarily making way for farming and livestock grazing. Land was cleared, often by area-wide burning despite limited firefighting resources, to remove competing vegetation to make way for more grassland. Full scale commercial logging was begun in The Sea Ranch circa 1900, and subsequent uncontrolled fires were the result of regrowth after logging operations had removed the overstory structure previously suppressing ground and ladder fuels. Where the low intensity fire intervals had previously been at least once each decade, studies now show a higher intensity fire return interval of approximately every 30 years after European settlers commenced commercial logging activity. This current risk will remain until the CTPZ creates a sufficient overstory, fire introduction or transition boundaries are cleared and maintained, and shaded fuelbreaks and firebreaks are sculpted into the forest so that coordinated firefighting efforts can be anchored from adequately maintained areas.
In the early 1990’s the Central TPZ was logged selectively. Approximately 40% of the trees over 18 inches dbh and 50% of the trees between 12” – 18” were harvested during this operation. The current NTMP outlines that approximately 30-40% of the trees over 18 inches dbh will be harvested, with no smaller Fir or Redwood trees harvested. Mature hardwood overstory will be specifically thinned to allow more light to fall to smaller trees below. Consequently, it appears that the current NTMP may generate a forest which will return the Northern CTPZ to a similar vegetation profile as followed the 1990’s logging 25 years ago, and therefore, vegetation management will continue to be required. Once again, fire fuels will grow the same way they are seen today. Other CTPZ zones are slated for similar canopy-opening logging practices in subsequent years. The result would be a drastic change in forest aesthetics, and radical change in wildlife suitability factors.
Roads, Erosion, and Sedimentation (Soils and Geology)
The NTMP indicates a need to pay for the repair of erosion problems within the CTPZ which were caused by previous logging activity, and the access roads required to haul that timber. Without a duff layer of leaves, needles, fallen logs, and trees to soak up and slow water passage through the soil profiles, erosion can happen because permeability ranges from moderate to slow, and the runoff rate is medium to rapid. Without a duff layer, the erosion hazard rating is medium generally, and can be quite high depending on the slopes. However, as noted in the NTMP, current erosion is quite minor, and stable. Most proposed improvements are in consideration of rainy weather heavy truck traffic for hauling. And, with the natural duff layer left in place, no erosion is likely to occur. Vegetation management activities can leave a significant amount of material on the forest floor which helps to control costs, builds erosion resistance, drought resistance, and builds topsoil. It is not ecologically beneficial, or more fire safe to remove all material from vegetation management activities. Erosion can best be controlled by allowing the natural build-up of uninterrupted leaf, needle, and branch matter on the ground and allowing it to decompose. Roadway ruts can have gravel placed in small amounts.
Also beneficial is large woody debris such as whole large trees which may fall naturally or which may be felled and left in place to return to the soil to build up a sponge effect, as well as provide duff and soil catchments if they are laid on contour with the slope. Reptiles, amphibians and small wildlife live and feed around old downed logs. Wildlife value is proportional to log diameter and length, and downed log volume has value for ultimately building better soil profiles and erosion resistance to the forest environment. Live Douglas fir with heart rot will eventually become snags, or may fall to the ground. Snags currently provide homes for birds and mammals, and are a future source of large woody debris. If the area is not logged, soils will remain stable, and nutrients will build over time. Carbon sequestration is also of benefit, globally, and with certain programs of financial benefit to the Association. Basically, the Association would be paid to leave trees on the property.
While minor and stable erosion patterns are noted in the hard sandstone shelf layers of some roadway surfaces, or alongside roads, no significant erosion was noted on the roads, drainages, or associated areas of the CTPZ. In fact, the roadway and trail system is in remarkably good condition and do not significantly impact any watercourses. Of course, it is not advisable to drive on dirt roads in the winter rainy season, as the temporary logging roads are not designed, constructed, or intended for vehicle travel in winter. When dry, light vehicle traffic or occasional heavy truck traffic would be permissible for vegetation management work, without the need for roadway remediation. Laying less than 50 cubic yards of gravel does not require permits.
Vegetation Types – Commercial Forestry
The NTMP indicates a need to pay for unspecified vegetation management activities within the CTPZ, with no feasible alternatives other than commercial timber harvest, or the sale of the property. The NTMP report, based heavily on a Certified Forest Manager’s report (The Tunheim Report), breaks up the CTPZ into 8 forest types for stocking, volume, and growth analysis. This is done, in part, to determine profitability for the logging of each section. Volume and density will determine how much income can be generated, and in the case of the current NTMP, to derive revenue for vegetation management activities and adding to infrastructure.
The stocking report methodology is designed and used by the timber industry primarily for evaluating crop performance, and in forecasting harvest volume and profitability. The job of a Certified Forest Manager is sustained yield forestry production, with a goal of maximizing saleable volume. Crop damage such as heart rot indicates a decrease in forest crop performance, and is therefore deemed “unhealthy” for the forest. Open spaces or acreage covered by noncommercial species are considered to be unproductive areas in need of repair, to be restocked with merchantable species for “improved forest health”, and a better economic return.
“Natural forests are not without insects and pathogens. These serve important roles in the maintenance of forest stands to accelerate the demise of trees weakened by stress factors and thus can be important agents in controlling tree density and forest succession. Forest insects assist the mineral cycling process by their mastication of tree leaves, which produces small fragments that are more readily broken down by microbes. Carbon cycling often begins in the heartwood of forest trees long before trees fall to the ground. Heart wood rotting fungi break down cellulose within the heartwood decades before a tree is significantly, structurally- weakened.” (McBride Report; Page 17)
Generally, when reading a Certified Forest Manager’s report, the determination of forest health in economic terms must be understood to be different than forest health in relation to the ecosystem – the two are very different. The CTPZ, which is generally healthy considering that it was recently logged, shows natural and healthy fluctuations in tree type and performance across soil types and water availability, and the natural change of growth rate as trees age. There is nothing fundamentally unhealthy about the CTPZ.
Previous investigations of the coniferous forests at Sea Ranch revealed that the overall health of the forest was good, and pathogens and insect populations were at endemic levels. Recently, small, isolated pockets of mortality of Bishop pine, Monterey pine, and shore pine were assessed. (Dan Stark Report, 2013)
The Tunheim Forester’s report must be taken in context, wherein most disease descriptions in the report are simply cut-and-paste boilerplate informational notes as to potential pathogens which could be encountered in certain vegetation types, and other information which describes damage which could be possible within any forest ecosystem. Few listed are present. None are problematic or fundamentally unhealthy for the CTPZ.
"Sudden oak death has not been observed on the property at this point." (NTMP; Page 10)
The CTPZ currently has the usual and necessary endemic levels of pests and pathogens needed to support and build a more diverse ecosystem. No epidemic pathogens or pests were reported likely to cause damage within the CTPZ ecosystem in any report to The Sea Ranch, by any author. However, there may be problems with the Pine plantations outside the native forest ecosystem.
“Previous investigations of the coniferous forests at Sea Ranch revealed that the overall health of the forest was good, and pathogens and insect populations were at endemic levels. Recently, small, isolated pockets of mortality of bishop pine, Monterey pine, shore pine, and Monterey cypress have occurred. “ (McBride Report; Page 18)
“Tree health in forest plantations and native forest stands can best be served by thinning of plantations to avoid increasing levels of tree stress as the trees grow older. Removal of individual trees showing signs of attack by insects and pathogens is also recommended to reduce plantation pest populations. Where these practices have been conducted at the Sea Ranch, especially the thinning of Bishop pine plantations, the remaining trees have avoided many of the pest problems observed in unthinned plantations.” (Dan Stark Report; 2013)
Vegetation Types – OGFM combined with PFVMP
With respect to Silviculture: “There are two different philosophies of forest management for the redwood region of California; even aged management and uneven aged management.” (Matt Greene, 2013)
Old Growth Forest Mimicry with Pre-Fire Vegetation Management Planning takes a different approach to forest management. The guiding principles in this type of work are toward the short and long term benefits to the forest ecosystem, with immediate and long term relief from fire hazard. Forest diversity with respect for plant and animal requirements are paramount, as long as the fire risk is adequately mitigated to protect the forest trees and surrounding homes. This type of work is a deliberate attempt to give deference to nature, maintain a mostly “hands-off” lower cost and permit-free approach, while creating a pleasant forest setting to live without undue risk of wildfire. The health of a forest in this model is determined by its ability to sustain or attract the historically represented flora and fauna from generations past, without regard to commercial timber growth rates, and with tolerance of ordinary endemic pathogens which create habitat and forage.
Regenerative work must maintain and augment the effects of a high and full shade canopy on reoccurring low-height fire fuels, and adding to the non-mineral soil profile over time. This type of work then focuses on fire science measures such as vegetation type, relative heights, orientation and distribution, ground contour, aspect, slope, prevailing wind, and local winds. It also contemplates the adjoining properties’ vegetation and terrain as important factors, along with adjoining ownership usage, and cross-property fire crew tactics.
Consequently, the CTPZ must be assessed by all of the combined measures ecosystem and of fire science in not greater than ¼ acre units, each of which are assessed in relation to the 8 surrounding ¼ acre units which border it. In actual practice, vegetation and habitat must be contemplated on both a larger than 5 acre scale, and subtle variations must be differentiated within each ¼ acre unit. Therefore, it is not feasible to describe and label each of the vegetation types within in this vegetation management style; unlike commercial forestry.
In addition to the above factors for consideration, the CTPZ has varying human viewshed concerns, watercourse vignettes and sightlines, and an assortment of roadways and skid trails with logging landing clearings which affect how the vegetation might be classified in the context of human use, and forest usage by wildlife. These use concerns are often easily accommodated and incorporated within the risk assessment based on fire science models. These and many other factors affect how trees and vegetation can be managed in actual practice, and the cost for the scope of work specified in each particular area.
Note: For those concerned about fire, there is significant difference between the vegetation type and distribution of the CTPZ in its current untreated condition, and the State Park Pine groves or Pine Plantation area fires located just south of The Sea Ranch. Unlike the CTPZ, those Pine areas had nearly 100% vertical and horizontal continuity of dense fine pyrophytic fuels packed close together, disease issues, and extreme fire conditions. In one case very close to The Sea Ranch, local fire resources had shut down based on a fire season calendar, and fixed-wing suppression resources were unavailable. That particular fire burned through the pine plantation and then slowed significantly when it reached the native forest. All of those Pine fires were promptly suppressed. The larger forest fires which burn for several days are typically located at least 12-15 miles inland, are not quickly detected, are far from ground based fire resources and water sources, and have no cooling coastal influence to ameliorate extreme fire conditions.
Scope of Work
Essentially, fuel islands and layers may be allowed to exist within the forest if they are isolated to such an extent they cannot easily pass fire horizontally or vertically to other fuel sources. The goal is to break up the horizontal and vertical continuity of vegetation, not eradicate all possible vegetation capable of combustion. With the work as proposed herein, if an area-wide fire event descended upon the CTPZ and was left completely unchecked, it might wander or spot through the forest, but without damaging the mature trees and without transmitting the fire to surrounding homes and forest canopies*. Of course, substantial fire services are in fact readily available at The Sea Ranch, and the substantial air suppression resources of the State are on standby 24/7 in hot dry weather. Those fire resources should be considered prior to initiating any full scale fire plan, as they can deal with canopy fires extremely effectively along this northern coastline.
*Fire transmission is the issue at stake, not fire itself. The post-logging vegetation problem has been allowed to build since the property was purchased. If $1 per lot, per month had been assessed to address the fire fuels from the time of purchase, all requisite work could have been definitively completed already, and a significant reserve fund would be in place. However, after present day remediation is completed, if the overstory canopy is allowed to fill in, costs will likely decline below the $1 per month mark. However, with logging, the need for small-fuel and ladder-fuel pre-fire vegetation management activities would be required for a very long time due to Douglas fir population explosion in the scarified soil, and from crown sprouts of hardwoods.
In the CTPZ there are numerous areas where ground fuels and juvenile firs stand in islands among the taller trees, with no mid-canopy to connect them. Where these islands are surrounded by roads and skid trails, the vegetation management required is simply to ensure the island remains separated. At times, a few larger trees in the grouping of 15-20 feet in height may be removed so as to lower the height of the island fuels, but in many cases, weed-whacking around (but not within) the island is all that is needed. This can be noted deep into Forest Type 4 by accessing the trail at Longmeadow and Timber Ridge, and walking west by northwest.
Forest Type 4 also has significant sparse understory near the parking area at Longmeadow and Timber Ridge. The understory could be thinned (not eradicated) so that any resulting flame length from ground level fires could not reach the upper canopy. Generally, a mixture of mowing and limbing achieves a good result. And, the material can usually be left in place to decompose which greatly reduces the cost of the work. Further to the west, if the lower branches of the fir trees along the grassland boundary were trimmed off with a pole pruner, the grasslands could not catch the tree canopies on fire. A simple 4-1 ratio of grass height to space between the grass top and the lowest needle-populated branch would ensure fire could not be transmitted to the canopy. If the grass is mowed regularly, a much lower height could be achieved with the same 4-1 ratio.
Areas of Forest Types 2, 3, and 6 are overcanopied so well that little grows beneath the trees capable of carrying a wildfire. These areas need little to no treatment. Further east, in the transition to more open canopy areas, islands do occur, but they are mostly surrounded by skid trails which can be easily managed with string-trimmers or metal blade trimmers. The west side of the central portion of the CTPZ to either side of the sag ponds is a good example of this. It can be observed by driving to the end of Schooner, and walking far along the red boundary tape to either side behind the homes.
Forest Type 1 basically needs no vegetation management work. This area can be seen from Sorcerer Road terminus, and along Timber Ridge when driving south from the Longmeadow terminus parking lot. Although each individual forest type will retain its own unique character due to soil, slope, aspect, and other factors, Forest Type 1 is a good example of the fire safe forest type to move toward in the management activities.
General Vegetation Types for Proposed Management
Each forest type (See Map - Last Page) is exhaustively technically described in the Tunheim Report and NTMP, and as such, will be intense reading with significant time needed to dissect and digest such granular information. Therefore, here, it may be advantageous to utilize more common terms for the proposed management or forest descriptions. It is also be helpful to describe the adjacent lands, as the potential for fire to enter or exit the CTPZ, is important to understanding the degree of CTPZ fire risk.
Roadways and Primary Trail Connectors: There are approximately 25,000 feet of roadways and primary trail pathways which are relevant to initial vegetation management activities. These structures can be augmented with 30 foot shaded fuel breaks on each side of the roadway or trail structure initially, so as to divide the CTPZ into large disconnected fuel islands with safer ingress and egress for firefighters. Some areas require more work than others, and some portions require none, or only one side. The material will likely be chipped and broadcast upon the ground. Forest type specific work will abut this work to reach 100 foot width.
East Boundary: The potential for fire entering the property from the east is low in most areas. The adjacent clearcut logging zones to the east each provides massively deep and long fuelbreaks, and as such, gives the CTPZ manager an extended reprieve in timing for establishing their shaded fuel break in those areas if they choose (5-10 years). The already thinning vegetation between the Ridge Trail road and ridgetop boundary logging road along the clearcut property both provide an excellent fuelbreak zone for development, as well as the current firebreak of the roads themselves. Basically, there is not sufficient vegetation to support any type of canopy fire in a fresh clearcut, and so any approaching fire would be a low intensity ground fire, wherein, the roadways and minimal vegetation on either side would stop a fire without firefighting effort, or with minimal effort. Additionally, fire crews are more likely to work from an area like this because it is safer and more effective in controlling fires, and aerial support will easily identify this area for water and retardant.
West Boundary: To the west, the Association is currently performing some degree of vegetation management to the areas which border the west side of the CTPZ directly, and to the areas which border private homes that border the west side of the CTPZ. Given the requirements per their own Vegetation Management Plan, there should be a plan to construct and maintain adequate measures for the protection of uphill vegetation and homes from fires originating at Highway 1 and at lower private residences. Private residences are responsible for performing state required clearance and most homes appear to minimally qualify, and considering the downslope grade, aspect, and prevailing wind, the forest does not appear to be a fire hazard to those homes. A higher vegetation management standard is recommended for homes by the Sonoma County Office of Emergency Services, and they can provide Tables and Matrixes to homeowners which quantify more effective treatment methods. By the county measure, some homeowners may not yet have complied with the Sonoma County standard. An effective clearance strategy for these boundary homes can also include the protection of the forest, should a particular house experience a stand-alone structure fire. However, higher residential standards are not necessarily a vegetation management concern for work that may happen within the CTPZ.
Also to the west are the areas of the CTPZ which meet Highway 1. Although these areas have significant protective measures in place, they have high continuity of fuel, primarily the Pine plantations and Fir trees at the grassland transitions. Additional work is needed here, and appears to be included in the vegetation management plan under way for some time. It is noted that these areas are not part of any logging plans, likely because there is no economic value in the forest products there. Clarification would be needed as to what plans are already in place and budgeted. These areas are highly visible to traffic, and fire response times are quick.
North Boundary: The north side currently has no visible distinction between the CTPZ and common or privately held land. Topography and prevailing winds do not support the likelihood of fire entry into the CTPZ from this direction. However, there is sufficient continuity of fuel that it would be important to develop a shaded fuel break in this area as part of any plan for vegetation management. Some disruption of upper canopy structure could be helpful here, primarily felling Fir and occasional Tanoak selections. Larger trees could have their canopies branch tips lopped and spread thin, with larger branches tucked against the trunks.
South Boundary: The south side of the CTPZ is mostly Forest Type 1. There may be some room for improvement where Fir trees have established sprouts and juvenile ladder fuels at the Sorcerer Road cul-de-sac, and areas not in the CTPZ. Of the south side area which is associated with Forest Type 9 and Forest Type 4 near Schooner and Longmeadow, there are transition areas which may be require ladder fuel work as grassland connects with forest edge in the primarily Fir based forest type. This work is described in the Forest Type 4 description below.
General Forest Type Description (Simplification of Tunheim)
Forest Type 1: Located at the far south side of the CTPZ near Sorcerer Road is the closest thing that The Sea Ranch has to a late seral stage old growth forest, and by some measures, may be similar to “The Hot Spot” in forest diversity, and aesthetic values. Forest health is very good, and fire danger is extremely low and diminishing each year due to the overstory shading effect of the mature trees where the canopies meet and block out much of the sun. The connectivity of the less than flammable Redwood canopies is not of concern, and the lack of ladder fuels further augments the fire safe nature of the stand. Large woody debris is more common here, and there is an excellent buildup of forest litter and so the forest floor feels like a sponge to walk upon. Ferns abound, and generally there is a calm and quiet protected feeling within the grove. Little or no vegetation management work is required here. Exceptionally light understory.
Forest Type 2: Located at the southeast side of the CTPZ and northeast of Longmeadow and Timber Ridge. This forest type which bridges the contrast between the north and south extremes in forest types of the CTPZ. There are very few broad leaf trees such as Tanoak. Redwoods are well spaced and there are a variety of ages present, from seedlings and sprouts, to juveniles and more mature specimens of less than 75 years generally. Intermediate and larger Fir trees are present. There is an overabundance of Fir seedlings and saplings growing in the open sun of roadways, landings, and the interstices of the overhead canopy. With minimal thinning and firebreak augmentation built up off of the roadways and skid trails, this forest could safely progress to a closed canopy forest in approximately 10-15 years, at which point, vegetation management activities could all but cease. Vegetation management work is moderate in 45% of the zone which measures 37 total acres.
Forest Type 3: Located south of the sag ponds by the terminus of Schooner Drive. Western aspect has a moderate overstory comprised of Fir and Redwood, while central and eastern aspects have open overstory features and limited timber to comprise an overstory. Consequently, significant sunlight reaches the ground level, and an overabundance of flammable Fir trees has reestablished the open ground, as is their role in a forest of this type. Few mature broadleaf trees because of past logging plan differences from the areas north of here, but many seedling and juvenile Tanoak in the central and eastern aspects, amount consistent with the open canopy. Far too many small Grand fir per acre in the central and eastern aspect - the Fir seedling rates are significant in this area and need to be managed by, weed-whacking, and light chainsaw work.
Forest Type 4: Located above the grasslands at Schooner and Longmeadow, and generally at the south by southwest side of the CTPZ (with some small portion on the east side of Forest Type 3). This forest type is primarily Fir, some Redwood, and a large buildup of Tanoak saplings and juvenile fir trees which will become ladder fuels to the upper canopy in the future. The Fir seedling rates are significant in this area and need to be managed by (lawn/high-weed) mowing, weed-whacking, and light chainsaw work. The fringe connection with the grasslands shows tree branches touching the grass itself, and there is room for rudimentary vegetation management activities at that interface. Vegetation management is light to moderate in 40% of the zone.
Forest Type 5: Located on the northwest aspect of the CTPZ. A thin mix of Redwood and Fir species which also has Tanoak as a major portion of the overstory. This area has significant numbers of mature and semi-mature hardwoods, which at times contribute at least 50% of the overstory. Underbrush Tanoak islands are at times dense, but are dying out in areas where the overstory is full. This forest type will require significant work to thin properly, and if the tall trees remain, regrowth will be slowed. Some chipping of brush may be required in this area for aesthetics and to increase fine ground litter for soil quality and moisture retention.
Forest Type 6: Located at the northeast portion of the CTPZ and similar to area 3 described above, but including mature hardwood overstory. Mature hardwoods are one of the most important components for wildlife habitat, as are the brushy components below them. Mostly Redwood and Grand fir overstory, with only some Douglas fir. Some chipping of brush may be required in this area as this area has significant fuel density, because of the trail density, and ridgetop fuel break potential if that work is expanded.
Forest Type 7: Located at the lower northwest side of the northern CTPZ, across from Vantage Road, type 7 is a 5 acre patch of Douglas fir encroaching on native grassland. A few Redwoods are sprinkled in here and there. Currently outside the proposed logging area.
Forest Type 8: Type 8 is a 10 acre patch of Bishop pine. Currently outside the proposed logging area.
Government Cost Share Programs
It is likely the TSRA will qualify for cost share programs from State and Federal sources such as CFIP. These funds can help with the costs of fuel hazard reduction projects, planting projects, thinning and pruning projects, erosion control, and wildlife habitat restoration.
Additionally, Carbon credit programs pay landowners who choose to keep their timber growing.
Roads and trails can constitute a firebreak, in that they can stop a ground fire with bare mineral earth. Often, a fuelbreak is constructed by thinning understory vegetation upon the firebreak. Density of vegetation allowed to remain depends on vegetation type and topography, fuelbreak width, and adjacent fuel loading.
Boundary work can be important if the adjacent properties are considered to be a risk of fire for the CTPZ preserve. The boundary work is not necessarily required unless there is a strong indication that an ignition source will result in the likelihood of fire into the CTPZ, or if the CTPZ will threaten structures that are not adequately defended with standard vegetation management plans. This should not be the case, but this work was included so as to be more comprehensive in presenting a menu from which to select services based on Association prioritization. Because an outside contractor is specified by the TSR Committee, it has been included here as an added, but not necessary expense for boundaries.
Forest type for the vegetation management is a rather large unit upon which to contemplate fire science measures. The CTPZ must actually be assessed in not greater than ¼ acre units, each of which are assessed in relation to the 8 surrounding ¼ acre units which border it. In actual practice, vegetation and habitat must be contemplated on both a larger than 5 acre scale, and subtle variations must be differentiated within each ¼ acre unit. This large scale method of forest type definition is intended only to allow financial computation.
Notes: The above figures are based on TSR using its own labor and equipment, as much of this work should be well within the ability of an in-house vegetation management crew. And, those healthy numbers are partially based on the recently disseminated Association leaflets which state that F&R crews do not have equipment, training or capability to remove trees, and so their Fuel Management Program work to eradicate vegetation (only) in initial entry on commons involved a staggering 140 hours per acre. If accurate, there may have been a challenge related to approach, equipment, or worker skill - - - production level and cost is grossly outside of the standard commercial rate range, and more information is needed to evaluate F&R crew efficiency. If these figures are in fact correct, it may signal the need to put certain work out to bid so as to better manage costs.
It is further stated by the leaflet that the CTPZ would likely require 175-200 hours per acre @ $36/hr. This calculates out to between $6,300 - $7,200 per acre. If 270 acres are treated at $6,000 per acre, the resulting cost is 1.62 million dollars, plus equipment, plus outsourced loggers to cut down trees. This cost analysis appears to be significantly flawed, but more information is needed to understand how the figures were derived, and to what specification. It is also noted the NTMP Page 113 states there are 248 acres of productive timberland that have been divided up into the 7 forest types, with the 10 acres of Bishop Pine not counted as merchantable. It is uncertain how the leaflet number of 270 acres was calculated. The CTPZ is 285 acres.
The NTMP timber plan proposes a 16 year cycle, and the resulting revenue influx dates would be at years 1, 5, 9, and 13. If the Old Growth Mimicry and Pre-Fire Vegetation Management cannot be currently funded with current dues, rollover, or reserve association funds, the funds could be generated while the work is being performed over a similar timespan. The total cost of the plan’s labor at $434,470 as divided between those same 13 years is approximately $1.22 per month for each of the 2,282 lots at The Sea Ranch. Follow up work will require approximately 5 to 7 man-hours of work per acre treated, in a 3-7 year period, with decreasing need for treatment, depending on sunlight levels reaching the lower fuels. Shade saves tremendous expense.
Although not necessary for fire safety of facilities, implementation of all aspects of the comprehensive plan could be completed prior to the beginning of the fire season in 2016, as outside contractors are likely more cost effective than the F&R Crews. This same level of definitive work could be completed by a competent contractor for a flat-fee of $400,000 within 4 months. A one-time assessment could be approved, which would cost $175 as a lump sum assessment, or a bank loan repaid at $2 per month, per lot, over 11 years, at 8%.
The above discussion shows that commercial logging is unnecessary, and even detrimental, in the CTPZ if forest health is understood in ecological rather than resource-extraction terms. The forest-management activities costed out above can be regarded as a menu of options. Choosing to do all of these things would minimize fire risk, retain and maximize canopy coverage, and (in some forest types) increase the forest's resemblance to old growth. While the cost for this full treatment may seem high when viewed as a single number, it becomes quite manageable when spread over the same 16-year cycle contemplated for the proposed NTMP. Alternatively, the most significant measures for fire safety could be implemented alone: in the first place, enhancing roadways and trails as fuel breaks, while letting nature take its course in the main body of the forest proper. This would still retain canopy coverage, and over time the natural development of the forest would shade out brush and reduce the number of saplings. In the meantime, this approach would minimize costs, while still adding reasonable fire-protection improvements. In the end it is up to the Association to choose the most desirable management path within this continuum. Nowhere, however, does it appear beneficial to the forest to include commercial logging among the choices considered.
© Fine Tree Care, Jeff Rebishchung, 2016
"These folks are fast, nice, reasonable and generous. With little lead time, they worked in the rain to make a fallen tree safe and then finished the job, cleaning out some neighboring trouble spots. The company has a great attitude around pricing, efficiency, quality, and customer satisfaction. Transparent, honest, just plain nice people who want stuff to come out right for a fair price. " ~ Greg P.