Group gets $1 million for Sonoma Valley fire prevention efforts

Cal Fire awarded the money to a new coalition to conduct prescribed burns and clear brush on public lands in Sonoma Valley.|

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Cal Fire has awarded more than $1.7 million for wildfire prevention in Sonoma County, with the bulk of the money going toward a coalition working to reduce fire risk on public lands in Sonoma Valley.

The Sonoma Valley Wildlands Collaborative received more than $1 million, allowing it to conduct controlled burns, clear brush and thin forests. The newly formed group of private and public agencies oversees 18,000 acres of fire-prone areas along Highway 12 that include Hood Mountain Regional Park and Sugarloaf Ridge and Trione-Annadel state parks, which were burned in the Tubbs and Nuns fires.

“The areas that we’re talking about have a long history of fire,” said Tony Nelson, longtime Sonoma Valley program manager for the Sonoma Land Trust, which is part of the collaborative. “It has burned in the past and we know it will burn again. The vegetation is not going to stop growing, so we need to not stop managing our natural systems with fire, as well as (need to) maintain safety.”

The collaborative also includes state and regional parks, the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, Audubon Canyon Ranch and the Sonoma Mountain Ranch Preservation Foundation. The group is a product of discussions predating the 2017 wildfires that raced over the Mayacamas Mountains and left behind scorched ridgelines, charred trees and ashen soil. The firestorm renewed conversations on how to prevent large-scale blazes.

“It’s a good place to start to review how fires damaged those lands,” said county Supervisor Susan Gorin, who represents Sonoma Valley. “There are still large, vast areas of undamaged land, so we need to do what can we do to further protect these lands. This needs to be a model we move forward with in other parts of the valley and other parts of the county.”

The two-year grant will allow Cal Fire crews and contractors to begin fuel reduction work as early as next month, weather permitting.

Cal Fire is providing a total of more than $43 million in state funding to 66 programs throughout California.

It’s part of a comprehensive plan to address the growing threat of catastrophic and deadly wildfires caused by climate change, said Deputy Chief Scott McLean, a Cal Fire spokesman.

The Geyserville Fire Protection District was among the other state grant recipients in Sonoma County. It will use the money to clear brush from roadways near the Lake Sonoma watershed.

State funds also will go to a fire prevention education program at Camp Meeker in west county, and a debris pickup project near Sea Ranch. Mendocino County will see nearly $1.6 million for fire prevention projects, as well.

“To bring our forests back to health in the next few years, it requires us to slow down these fires, if not try to stop them from starting,” said McLean. “We have to get as many individuals or venues involved. Everybody is responsible for the state and we all need to work together, and we are.”

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