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State grant extends Sonoma Valley wildfire prevention work

Funding for remedial work in wildfire-prone Sonoma Valley now includes a nearly $1 million Cal Fire grant to treat 168 acres in two state parks and a private preserve, doubling the state agency’s support over a seven-year period.

A collaborative of six conservation organizations and land management agencies that own and manage 18,000 acres in the valley just received a $934,286 grant that will pay for wildfire fuel reduction in Jack London and Trione-Annadel state parks and the Bouverie Preserve from 2022-25.

Cal Fire’s previous $1,055,575 grant, awarded in 2018, is currently funding projects that will treat about 530 acres through 2022, the Sonoma Valley Wildlands Collaborative said.

The collaborative, formed in response to the 56,556-acre Nuns fire in 2017, aims to reduce risks to life and property along the Highway 12 corridor, including five communities and more than 9,000 structures. The valley was hit again by the 67,484-acre Glass fire last year.

“We’re building a healthier and more fire-resistant ecosystem surrounding the communities impacted by wildfires,” said Joe Plaugher, the collaborative coordinator and stewardship project manager for Sonoma Land Trust.

To date, the collaborative has treated 253 acres, and it also has a $319,364 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for projects on 720 acres along with a $500,000 appropriation from the state budget, he said.

Plaugher, a 30-year county resident who previously worked for Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, said he was motivated to promote wildfire prevention because friends and relatives have lost homes to the conflagrations.

“We’re trying to restore the system that’s been thrown out of balance by the last 100 years,” he said, referring to a century of wildfire suppression that contributed to California’s dilemma of overgrown wildlands compounded by drought and climate change.

Hattie Brown, Sonoma County Regional Parks natural resources manager, said the collaborative is reducing wildfire risks in ways “far greater than we could achieve on our own.”

“Increasing our resilience to wildfire takes working on a landscape scale,” she said. “That means working across fence lines.”

The first Cal Fire grant funded construction of shaded fuel breaks at North Sonoma Mountain, Hood Mountain and Sonoma Valley regional parks, she said.

Shaded breaks are “strategic zones” where many shrubs and small trees are removed while larger trees are left standing. The breaks remain valuable habitat where fire intensity decreases and become locations where firefighters can respond to a wildfire, Brown said.

The new grant also funds a vegetation management plan for Hood Mountain Regional Park and Open Space Preserve, a 2,000-acre wilderness park in the Mayacamas Mountains that was burned in both the Nuns and Glass fires and remains partially closed due to the latter.

Brown said the plan will bring “the best forest management practices to Hood … specific to the changes the park has experienced in the past decade.”

Work funded by the new grant includes treatment of 43 acres at Jack London State Historic Park, 35 acres at Trione-Annadel State Park and 90 acres at Bouverie Preserve, a 535-acre tract owned by the nonprofit Audubon Canyon Ranch.

The Nuns fire scorched 85% of the preserve’s wildlands and destroyed seven of its nine buildings.

The work at Jack London park “reduces fuel loads while also enhancing and restoring the historic landscape, which improves the experience for park visitors,” Cyndy Shafer, natural resource program manager for the state parks’ Bay Area District, said in an email.

Proactive vegetation management at both parks is intended to reduce the severity of future wildfires, “which is good for both park resources and surrounding communities,” she said.

The collaborative includes the state and county parks, Sonoma Land Trust, Audubon Canyon Ranch, the Sonoma County Agricultural Preserve and Open Space District and the Sonoma Mountain Ranch Preservation Foundation.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @guykovner.

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