By Leonard Andrenacci
OAKHURST — On Friday afternoon (Feb. 7) at workshop in Oakhurst, a progress report was issued on an ambitious project called “Fire Resilient Madera.” The statewide, $67-million “Fire Resilient” project covers 13 counties — from San Diego to Siskiyou — and involves multiple area agencies joining forces to combat future Wildland fires through a host of preventive measures.
Some of those preventive measures include creating fuel breaks, right-of-way clearing and reforestation.
A series of workshops will be held in the coming months and organizers say public participation is key to the success of the program. The first Fire Resilient Madera workshop was actually held in September 2019.
Fire Resilient Madera workshops are part of the Madera Strategic Wildfire Mitigation Project, which will implement strategic fuel breaks and defensible landscape projects in Eastern Madera County.
Five to seven projects, to be undertaken over three years, will protect 15,000 habitable structures, as well as businesses, infrastructure and community resources. Treatments will vary based on fuel types and conditions (slope, elevation, etc.) but could include tree felling, mechanical or hand crew thinning, chipping and pile burning to accomplish public safety and fuel reduction goals.
CAL FIRE awarded grant monies from it’s Forest Health and Forest Legacy programs to help fund the Fire Resilient Madera program.
Workshop presenters said at Friday’s session that California Conservation Corps personnel could be utilized as part of the workforce carrying out project initiatives.
“Our goal with this grant funding is to prioritize and categorize local potentially high fire threat locations to minimize the fire threat through cooperative and coordinated efforts of federal, state and local agencies,” said Yosemite/Sequoia Resource Conservation & Development Council’s Justine Reynolds, project manager. “The highest priority is Cedar Valley DFPZ right-of-way — clearing 110 acres.”
Sugar Pine fuel break (60 acres) is second on the project’s priority list, with Bissett Laterals and North Goat Mountain to follow, Reynolds added.
Reynolds said Fire Resilient Madera’s efforts will cover state, local, tribal, federal and private lands. Those efforts, she added, also will include thinning dense and degrading forest and managing pests and disease.
More than 170,000 trees also will be planted as part of the project to help sequester carbon in order to decrease the effects of climate change.
District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler attended Friday’s workshop, which was held as the Oakhurst Library.
Wheeler said after the workshop that he’d like to create a fuel reduction district in Madera County. “We build fuel breaks and they just grow over again so we might want to study the option of [using the] TOT [Transient Occupancy Tax] to fund fuel break maintenance” as a preventive measure, he added.
After the meeting, Wheeler also said that CAL FIRE will also make an investment in “human capital” to train and staff wood products forestry operations — and that all projects involved in Fire Resilient Madera will be closely monitored in order to make any necessary improvements to the program.