Forestry & Wildfire

Forestry & Wildfire

The Gold Ridge RCD partners with landowners, local fire safe councils, fire departments, the County of Sonoma, CAL FIRE and others to plan, design and implement community wildfire and forest resilience projects. Sonoma County, like many California counties, is annually threatened by catastrophic wildfire, particularly in the wildland-urban interface (WUI). Our local topography, fuels, and Mediterranean climate make our county subject to periodic wildfires. Combined with 100 years of effective fire suppression across the state, these conditions have led to uncharacteristically high fuel loads which has resulted in several devastating wildfires recently impacting our community.

The RCD has a long history of collaborating with local community and agency stakeholders to provide county residents with educational, science-based solutions, and cost share assistance. Our new Forestry and Wildfire Resilience programs assist rural landowners and communities through comprehensive wildfire management planning processes, community-based organizing, education, increased access to fuels management services, and funding for non-commercial forest improvement activities (such as thinning, planting, pruning, and fuel hazard reduction) to mitigate wildfire risk and improve forest health in this highly fire-prone region.

Frequently served: Forestland owners, farmers, fire safe councils and communities

The RCD provides non-industrial forestland managers with assistance to support conservation activities through technical education, site visits, planning services, project funding and project management. Priority resource concerns include forest susceptibility to drought, pest, disease, and wildfire; post-fire damage; community susceptibility to wildfire; degraded wildlife habitat; degraded water quality. If you aren’t already working with a registered professional forester, we can help you connect with one, including our staff forester. We may also put you in contact with the technical staff of your local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE), or the California Department of Forestry and Fire Management (CAL FIRE).

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This LandSmart® program, in partnership with Match.Graze and the County of Sonoma, connects lands with high vegetative fuel loads at risk of wildfire with contract grazers. Gold Ridge RCD and Sonoma RCD are partners in the LandSmart Grazing Program. This project supports interested neighbors or community groups to utilize grazing to reduce their land’s fuel load and make their communities safer in the face of wildfires. Grazing has added co-benefits: Grazing comes with additional benefits: low impacts to air quality and noise; ease of access near structures and on steep slopes; natural fertilization; and if timed right, control of noxious weeds. Grazing can also be the most financially accessible and easiest to implement due to lack of permit requirements compared to other fuel treatments such as hand crews, mowing, masticating or prescribed burns. The benefits to community cohesion, coordination and morale are also anticipated to grow.

Ways to participate for Public Lands LandSmart® Grazing Phase IV – Partnership with Coastal Conservancy:

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In order to prevent homes and infrastructure from being lost in a wildfire, CALFIRE and local fire districts require that residents maintain a safe barrier (“defensible space”) around them. Adequate defensible space acts as a barrier to slow or halt the progress of fire that would otherwise engulf your property. It also helps ensure firefighter safety while defending your home. Defensible space is the first line of defense for your home against wildfire. The RCD supports our county’s pre-fire partner, Fire Safe Sonoma, and other fire safe councils in providing technical assistance to our communities.

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A Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) is a community-based plan focused on identifying and addressing local hazards and risks from wildfire. A CWPP identifies wildfire risks and provides a roadmap of actions, including improving emergency communications, structure hardening, defensible space around buildings and infrastructure, vegetation management projects, suppression resources, and public education.

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Ways to participate:

  • None at this time

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The North Bay Forest Improvement Program (NBFIP) is an innovative incentives program funded through CAL FIRE. Resource Conservation Districts (RCDs) in Sonoma, Mendocino and Napa Counties the Clear Lake Environmental Research Center (CLERC) have partnered with Rebuild North Bay Foundation to form the North Bay Forest Improvement Program (NBFIP) to help private non-industrial small forestland owners/managers (between 5 and 500 acres) implement non-commercial forest improvement activities such as thinning, planting, pruning, and fuel hazard reduction.

The North Bay Forest Improvement Program is an incentives program, similar to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the California Forest Improvements Program (CFIP), providing public funds to support private investment in forest health and resilience projects; reducing vegetative fuel loads and risks of wildfire, insect infestation, and disease epidemics on private properties in the North Bay’s diverse and valuable forestlands. This program is intended to blend the best parts of CAL FIRE’s California Forest Improvement Program (CFIP) and NRCS’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) within the confines of the NBFIP  grant guidelines.

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Ways to participate:

  • Applications for Project Implementation can be submitted any time, and are funded in the spring and fall each year.
  • Applications for a Forest Management Plan (FMP) can be submitted anytime.

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The Sonoma County Forest Conservation Working Group (Forest Working Group) is a network of local forest landowners, land managers, foresters, land trusts, watershed councils, non-profits, government agencies, researchers and educators. The Working Group brings forestry and conservation expertise to educational events and projects designed for the public. The Working Group’s mission is to protect forests across landscapes and through generations. The Working Group exists 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.

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Forest Stewardship is an approach to managing forest properties that takes into consideration the goals and objectives of the landowner and works to manipulate the growth of vegetation to meet those objectives while ensuring that these activities do not degrade beneficial uses of forests. This requires an understanding of the current property condition, including roads, infrastructure, soils, hydrology, and ecology, and it requires that the landowners have a firm understanding of what they are trying to manage the property for. This website is a great resource for landowners to begin the process of developing a forest management plan. UCANR is currently providing a course for landowners to learn the basics of developing a management plan. During the development of the forest management plan there will be technically challenging aspects that will require assistance from a professional forester: Sonoma and Gold Ridge RCDs can provide this assistance through grant funded programs.

The benefits to having a forest management plan aren’t just intrinsic; although there are substantial benefits to having a goal, and a measured plan to achieve the goal, especially when dealing with a subject as large as managing acres of forest land. There are existing government cost-share programs that were developed to help landowners better manage their forests, by providing incentives payments for implementing non-commercial forest practices that are beneficial to the land. Examples of these practices are: non-commercial thinning, pruning, planting, chipping, and pile burning. Many of these practices benefit the growth of residual trees on the land and have the added benefit of reducing fuel hazards on the landscape. The two major programs for this purpose are the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) provided by the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), which is an agency within the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the California Forest Improvements Program (CFIP) which is provided by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE). These programs require that landowners have an approved forest management plan before they will enter into cost-share agreements with landowners. The management plans that the RCDs work with landowners to create qualify for both programs.

Management plans also provide much of the information that is required for compliance with environmental laws such as the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Because these plans have this information identified, it makes compliance with other government programs simpler. An example of this is CAL FIRE’s Vegetation Management Program (VMP) which is a prescribed fire program where the department will fund and execute prescribed fire operations for fuels reduction on private land. This information could also be used by RCDs to apply for specific competitive grants to address natural resource concerns which are identified in the planning process. Management plans can be tailored to fit the needs of the landowner. The RCDs hope to be able to provide prescribed burn planning in the near future, which would help facilitate VMP projects, as well as any projects undertaken through Prescribed Burn Associations (PBA) such as Sonoma/Marin’s Good Fire Alliance.

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