Community Fuel Break work to begin next year.

Los Padres signs Big Sur Community Fuelbreak Record of Decision

 GOLETA, Calif.— Los Padres National Forest Supervisor Kevin Elliott signed a Record of Decision on Nov. 13 for the Strategic Community Fuelbreak Improvement project Environmental Impact Statement. The project is on the Monterey Ranger District near the communities of Big Sur, Palo Colorado, Cachagua, and Jamesburg.

The purpose of the Strategic Community Fuelbreak Improvement project is to re-establish and maintain a series of fuelbreaks to enhance protection for at-risk communities and firefighting resources, preserve wilderness character, and reduce suppression costs. These historically-used and effective strategic fuelbreaks extend in and out of the Ventana Wilderness.

This project is a result of collaborative engagement at the community level and will improve effectiveness and efficiency in protecting communities from wildfire. The project will also minimize future impacts to wilderness. Wilderness character is diminished when fuelbreaks are re-opened by bulldozers during emergency suppression of wildfires. By proactively designing and establishing strategic fuelbreaks during a non-emergency environment, the Forest Service can reduce the reliance on mechanized equipment and subsequently reduce the adverse fire suppression impacts on the wilderness landscape.

A notice of intent to prepare an EIS was published in the Federal Register on December 28, 2012. Public scoping and an “analysis of comments” was completed. A Draft EIS was then prepared and scoped for public comment in January 2017 and two public open houses were held in February 2017.

Work on this project will begin next year.

For more information, please contact District Ranger Tim Short at (831) 385-5434 or or visit

Excellent Work for all the people who helped, contributed, and collaborated on this.

Fire Mitigation Coordinator for MoCo

Following is a request from the Wildfire Coalition.  Monterey County will be finalizing their 2018-19 budget in the coming two weeks.  Time is of the essence and it would be greatly appreciated if you can respond to this request at your earliest convenience.

In 2010, the Monterey County Community Wildfire Protection Plan (MCCWPP) was signed by CAL-FIRE, Monterey County Board of Supervisors, Monterey County Fire Chief’s Association, the Fire Safe Council for Monterey County, the United States Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, California State Parks, and all of the fire districts, departments and brigades in Monterey County..  The establishment of a non-agency, non-regulatory wildfire mitigation coordinator to facilitate the implementation of the MCCWPP was recommended at that time.

In 2011, a Memorandum of Understanding In Support of Monterey County Fire Warden Office (MOU) was executed by the chair of the Monterey County Board of Supervisors, CAL-FIRE and all of the fire districts, agencies, and brigades in Monterey County.  The MOU expressly supported a wildfire mitigation position to coordinate and undertake responsibilities for fuel mitigation activities in Monterey County.  The position is intended to implement the MCCWPP by facilitating grants, environmental compliance, and wildfire hazard mitigation project activities to protect areas in the wildland urban interface and by coordinating adaptive management planning for forest health and community wildfire resiliency.  The position has yet to be filled due to budgetary and other constraints.

Nonetheless, the conversations about the need for this position has not stopped.  A common theme that continues to emerge time and time again is the need for a wildfire mitigation coordinator to give guidance, support and assistance to landowners and the network of organizations (e.g., Fire Safe Council for Monterey County, FireScape Monterey, Wildfire Coalition, Carmel River Watershed Conservancy, etc.) that have formed over time to prepare for and mitigate the risk of wildfires.

For the next fiscal year (2018-2019), Monterey County Resource Management Agency (RMA) has submitted a budget augmentation request to the Monterey County Board of Supervisors to retain this essential wildfire mitigation coordinator.

We ask you to submit a letter to the Monterey County Board of Supervisors, supporting RMA’s budget augmentation request to fund the wildfire mitigation coordinator position.  This position is essential to enhancing Monterey County’s preparedness for wildland fire.

Each Supervisor has their own direct contact information which can be found at  It’s important to know that emails, letters and faxes sent to individual board members are not distributed to other board offices so please copy your email to all Supervisors on the Board.

New $150 Cal-Fire Structure Fire Fighting Fee

Thanks to Bert Ewling, editor of the Cambrian, and city editor of the SLO Tribune, for bringing this to my attention. There is a new fee in the State Budget that could significantly impact some property owners in Big Sur. This could be something that CPOA and the Big Sur Chamber might want to look into for its members.

Bert writes: “[P]art of the new state budget is a $150 fee per habitable structure on a parcel protected by Cal Fire, which it seems to me would affect large swaths of Big Sur (outside federally owned land and incorporated areas). Implementing regulations to be done by Sept. 1; fee to be assessed in the 2011-2012 fiscal year and ongoing ….”

Here is a part of the SLO Tribune article:
“Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday signed into law a $150 annual wildfire protection fee for property owners in rural areas of California, even as anti-tax advocates said they are prepared to challenge the way the Legislature imposed the levy.
The Democratic governor announced that he signed the bill, ABX1-29. to ensure rural property owners pay their share of the state’s wildland firefighting costs. The state has spent an average of $177 million a year for firefighting over the past decade, although the state is awaiting federal reimbursement for part of the costs in recent years.
Read more: SLO Tribune

Here is a part of the article from aroundthecapitol

“Existing law requires the state to have the primary financial responsibility for preventing and suppressing fires in areas that the State Board of Forestry and Fire Protection has determined are state responsibility areas.

This bill would require the board, on or before September 1, 2011, to adopt emergency regulations to establish a fire prevention fee in an amount not to exceed $150 to be charged on each structure on a parcel that is within a state responsibility area. The board would be required to adjust the fire prevention fee annually using prescribed methods.
The bill would require the State Board of Equalization to collect the fire prevention fees, as prescribed. The bill would require, within 30 days of the effective date of its provisions, and each January 1 thereafter, the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to transmit to the State Board of Equalization the appropriate names and addresses of persons who are liable for the fire prevention fee and the amount of the fire prevention fee to be assessed by the State Board of Equalization.”

Here is the link for the rest of it:

Here is a link to the text of the bill: ABX1 29

Here is the SRA map for Monterey County:

One good question Bert brings up is what would this mean to the private campgrounds and businesses that have numerous cabins/structures on the property? Or for properties that have a main house, a guest house, and a caretakers unit.Is this $150 for each structure? It appears to be. Are there set-offs for structures constructed out of fire-proof materials, or those who have sprinkler systems? Should there be? It seems to me that a blanket fee, without regard to the size, location, and construction materials, or other firefighting factors should be challenged. It is currently being investigated by the Jarvis Taxpayers Association and it made the determination that the “fee” is a “tax” that is subject to challenge. The governor says it is a fee for services. We should be watching this one – particularly businesses that have a lot of visitor-serving structures. Will it be applied differently to those businesses who have free-standing units, but not those in which the rooms are not separate units? I don’t know the answers to these questions, as I have not had the opportunity to study the bill.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not against this ff fee. I am more than happy to pay for the protection. (Ummm … that is reminescent of other “protection” fees) A blow-up of the Plaskett section of the map shows that indeed I an in the SRA. 😉


Congratulations to Kelly (who never gave up) and her team of many, our CPOAs Butch Kronlund and Dick Ravich for their untiring and ceaseless work to make this happen! There were so many people involved in this unending process, I can’t list them all, but from me and the other residents in Big Sur who are at-risk of Wildfire, you have my deep gratitude for seeing this through and getting it passed. What a great Christmas present. Blessings to all.

Residents of Communities At-Risk of Wildfire,

The Monterey County Board of Supervisors this afternoon [ed. note -yesterday, Tuesday the 14th] voted 5-0 in favor of having the Chair of the Board of Supervisors sign the Monterey County Community Wildfire Protection Plan (MCCWPP)

Happy Holidays to you and yours!


Kelly Erin O’Brien, President
Board of Directors
Monterey Fire Safe Council
2221 Garden Road
Monterey, CA 93940

I’ll have storm watch later, and “good old Mac is back” so I have my Christmas Trees to post, also.


From Kelly O’Brien (in part):
Fellow Board Members and Friends,

Due to the fact that Supervisor Potter was injured over the weekend and was absent from the Board of Supervisor’s meeting today, the Supervisor sought to continue the hearing on the Monterey County Community Wildfire Protection Plan (MCCWPP), scheduled to be considered this afternoon.

Indeed, in deference to Supervisor Potter, there was a motion put forth to “continue” the “hearing” with the decision on authorizing the Chair of the Board of Supervisors to sign the MCCWPP put off until next week, or the earliest meeting Supervisor Potter can attend. Part of the motion was the declaration of an “Intent to Sign” (non-bonding) the MCCWPP.

There’s much to be done between then and now:

1) Sherry Tune of USFS wishes to discuss how changes she wishes to see in the MCCWPP can be integrated. Staff made it clear that they will hesitate to make a recommendation without Sherry being satisfied with the sections she has addressed.

2) The Science section must be finalized (we received Dr. Scott Stevens’ document from the Sierra Club today and our Science team will review and make recommendations).

3) Supervisor Parker mentioned some additions – rather than edits – to the MCCWPP that she would like to see included. By and large, they were harmless and had mostly to do with structure protection, upgrades and enhancements.

4) Appendix J is, so far, a minor bone of contention…

All speakers before the BoS were positive. No environmental group representatives (in opposition) showed up. …

We must work diligently to finalize MCCWPP details and to contain any further attempt to expand the discussion beyond what is currently on the table.

Thanks to Pam Silkwood for moving the Supes toward issuing a motion that included an “Intent to Sign”


Kelly Erin O’Brien, President
Board of Directors
Monterey Fire Safe Council
2221 Garden Road
Monterey, CA 93940

(650) 533-1010 cell
(831) 658-0821 office
(831) 659-2320 home

Items of Note

Before Avis posts more Jade Festival photos this weekend, if she does, I would like to bring a couple of items that are dear to my heart to your attention. First, the Bal Masque at Nepenthe benefitting the Big Sur Volunteer Fire Brigade is on Halloween, October 31st.

Second, Mike Gilson, of CPOA and the Big Sur Bakery is making a plea for the MCWPP on KUSP in a piece produced by Meade Fischer. “His plea to pass the wildlife plan will air on Mon, Nov. 1 on KUSP 7:33A and 4:33P” writes Meade.

I’ll be back to my usual blogging next week.

MCCWPP Meeting report

Per today’s Herald:
“Tuesday’s board meeting went into early evening largely because of a contentious hearing on the proposed Monterey County Community Wildfire Protection Plan.

That 2½-hour session included impassioned testimony from Big Sur residents who lived through the Basin Complex Fire in 2008, as well as highly critical comments about the plan from a series of environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club.

The board directed staff to work with the various groups to provide a road map for making wilderness neighborhoods fire-safe.

Staff will ask the groups to work out major areas of disagreement. The board plans to revisit the proposed plan Nov. 9.”

I heard from 2 individuals who either were there or watched/listened online, and both gave reports from completely different perspectives that were similar to that related by the Herald. Both expressed frustration, but for very different reasons. So, next up – the November 9th meeting.

Tomorrow, I have some weather reports to post.

Protecting Big Sur from Wildfire, Part 5

The VWA recently published a post on their forum on the position of the Sierra Club, Ventana Chapter. The position paper can be read here:

However, much of this particular position statement is designed to inflame emotions, not deal with the facts of the plan and its creation itself. If you can read it objectively, not from any particular point of view, one can see that it is not objective, and is written in inflammatory prose. I provide just two examples below, but there are many.

For example, I would note that there are statements which are inaccurate, based on information provided to me, specifically that this process was not inclusive. My understanding, obtained from those who attended the meetings, is that the Sierra Club, Ventana Chapter WAS invited to attend any and all meetings, and had one person attend two meetings. The Plan was also open to anyone requesting access via a collaborative web site. The Sierra Club, Ventana Chapter had access to this site and made no comments to the Plan.

The fire council meetings, the basis for the creation of the MCCWPP, have always been open to any member of the public that wished to attend. So to say this plan “was completed out of public view by a handful of rural residents” is misleading, at best, and designed to create an emotional response in the reader.

Another statement is: “This degradation could result in their conversion to non-native, flammable weedlands.” The operative word is “could.” Just fighting a fire, even without firebreaks, “could” bring in non-native plant communities. (Note the difference in the language between “non-native, flammable weedlands” and “non-native plant communities.” One creates an inflammatory emotional tone, the other does not.) Of course, the destruction of native species by wildfires opens up the introduction of non-native plant communities just from the blowing of the wind. And there are many miles of open, bare earth hiking trails, some 4 feet wide, thoughout the forest and wilderness that are just as exposed to non-natives, as well.

These are just two simple examples of the concerns I have over this position paper, and offered so that you might look at the paper in a more objective fashion, without being mislead.

Below is my personal opinion, representing only 2 years of studying wildland fire behavior, reading about 2 dozen books on the subject, and living through the Wild Fire of 1996; the Kirk-Hare Complex Fire of 1999; the Plaskett II Fire of 2000; The Basin Complex Fire of 2008; The Indians Fire of 2008; and lastly (for now) the Chalk Fire of 2008. This is only my own personal opinion, after my own investigation, reading of the plan, reading the letters in favor and in opposition, and everything I could find on the subject. It does NOT represent the opinion of any other individual or group.

I posted this on the VWA forum today (with some minor editorial changes for clarity):

Re: Monterey County Deserves a professional fire prevention
by bigsurkate on Fri Sep 17, 2010 11:36 am

I love the title “Monterey County Deserves a professional fire prevention plan.” The current version of the MCCWPP was prepared by professionals – many professionals from many fields of fire prevention and forest management. It has been studied and contributed to by many others.

Reasonable people and minds can disagree. Fire science experts and legal land use experts often disagree with each other, and do over this issue, as well. There are experts on both sides in both fields. Lawyers are trained to disagree. It is how we make our living.

Most fire science experts now agree that the policies of the last 100 years of fire suppression have gotten us into a pickle. We now have more large and catastrophic fires than ever before, which burn hotter and destroy more flora and fauna. Many fires, including the Basin Fire of 2008, have burned so hot in areas that the soil has been destroyed for generations. With a CWPP in place, we can obtain federal grants to start restoring the health of our forests through careful management. It will never go back to what it was before man started meddling with Mother Nature, no matter what steps we take, but we must try to learn from our mistakes and make better choices.

As long as there is Wildland-Urban Interface, firefighters will be fighting fires in an effort to save lives, property, and the environment. Their lives are important. Let’s give them the tools they need to be safe when they are protecting us, our property, and our environment. All the local firefighting agencies are behind this plan througout Monterey County, CA State Parks, USFS among others and have indicated their support by signing the Plan. Are they not professional? Do the voices of the people who risk their lives to protect our wilderness mean nothing?

How much of the wilderness did the Basin Fire destroy? 161, 800 acres, not counting the Indians and the Chalk Fires. Some of it will come back, but some of it will not. Will the MCCWPP lessen the impact of these catastrophic fires? No one can know for sure until we try it. We know what we’ve been doing hasn’t worked. Isn’t it time to try something else?

I would add to the above VWA post this question to the Ventana Chapter of the Sierra Club: while you say you have “been actively involved in this process” I would like to know how many meetings did you attend? How many recommendations did you submit on the plan during its development stages?

It would appear from your own statement that your “involvement” with the plan was conducted outside the meeting process itself, by contacting legal representatives and a fire expert from Santa Cruz. “For the past year, we have retained and consulted with attorneys, fire ecologists, other scientists, and fire consultants to review and assess several fire plans.”

Approaches to forest health and fire management vary in significant ways even among those who have studied it for decades. We do not understand all the factors and influences and may never understand them. There is no “one solution” fits all. Each forest is different, each topography is different, winds react differently, and weather changes moment to moment. What we “know” now to be true, will be proven false tomorrow, when we have more information. For the vast majority of human endeavors throughout history, particularly those dealing with our planet, Mother Nature, and her environment, this has been true. It is no different for forest and fire management. Any one or group who thinks they have “the” answer is deluding themselves and misleading others.

Protecting Big Sur from Wildfire, Part 4

I actually had something else planned for my “Part 4” of this critical and controversial issue, but CPOA put out this notice tonight, and I thought it important to get as broad an audience for it as possible.

If you have any difficulty reading the email addresses of our Board of Supervisors, let me know, and I will add those to this post.

Protecting Big Sur from Wildfires, Part 3

A tad late, but as promised, the third installment. Last time I gave you an overview of the draft Monterey County Community Wildfire Protection Plan, and a link so your could read it yourself. Knowing it is a 186 page document few would actually take time to read, I thought this segment I would focus on the “recommendations” portion of the plan.

I have chosen a couple of these recommendations as being representative of some of the controversy surrounding this document, and will post one of these here today. I would like to remind you, that this is just a draft, is still being circulated, and is being worked on almost every week. Remember, you can read this draft Wildfire Protection Plan yourself here:

One controversial recommendation (and that’s what these are, only recommendations) is maintaining year-round the “Big Box” fire break. This is a fire break that was used in the Basin Fire of 2008, and a number of fires that preceded it. This fire break has historical significance in the firefighting and local communities for fire containment.

This is what the MCCWPP recommends regarding Maintaining the “Big Box Fire Break”

“Maintain the Big Box Firebreak Background: The Big Box Firebreak, which generally surrounds much of the Monterey District of the LPNF, protects the following at-risk communities from fires originating in the LPNF, and protects the LPNF from fires originating in the following at-risk communities:

• Arroyo Seco • Big Sur • Big Sur, South Coast • Bryson-Hesperia
• Cachagua • Carmel Highlands • Carmel Valley • Carmel Valley Village • Indians • Jamesburg • Lockwood • Palo Colorado • Pine Canyon (south) • Rancho San Carlos • Rancho San Clemente
• Reliz Canyon • San Antonio Lake • Tassajara • White Rock

Recommendation: Reduce the risk to communities by maintaining the Big Box Firebreak at all times, in a condition that will result in a high probability that the firebreak will serve to stop the spread of wildfire under extreme fire conditions. Additionally, the maintenance and defense of the firebreak includes, but is not limited to, treatment on each side of the Big Box Firebreak to ensure that it is effective in stopping fire spread. The width of treatment should be determined utilizing such factors as fuel loads, topography, predominant winds, values at risk and fire behavior modeling. The location of the Big Box Firebreak is shown on the map in Appendix B-7.

Rationale: The Big Box Firebreak was used to protect at-risk communities surrounding the LPNF from the 178,000 acre Marble Cone Fire in 1977, the 86,000 acre Kirk Complex Fire in 1999, and the 163,000 acre Basin Complex Fire and 81,000 acre Indians Fire in 2008. The Basin Complex Fire burned on the west side of an 8 mile segment of the western portion of the Big Box Firebreak, consuming 26 homes and 32 other structures in the Big Sur at-risk community, and threatening approximately 300 homes in the Palo Colorado at-risk community. Maintaining and defending the Big Box Firebreak will reduce the threat of harm to firefighters and to the communities surrounding the Los Padres National Forest. To the extent the Big Box Firebreak is on non-federal land, this recommendation should be construed as recommending that federal funds be made available for its maintenance (e.g., through grants).”

One fire author explained: “Firefighters once could choose where to make their stand. Like generals in military battles, they chose advantages that the land offered — rivers, roads, rocky ridges — so that terrain became an ally. But now the presence of homes and lives to be protected has robbed them of choice. Too often now they must draw their line on inopportune ground and make their stand in dangerous places. Sometimes the price is high, as in 1990, when six Arizona firefighters died, backs to the wall, trapped on the line they defended in a canyon below a forest subdivision. Or in 1994, when fourteen firefighters died at the South Canyon Fire on the flanks of Colorado’s Storm King Mountain, battling an upslope blaze within sight of a rural subdivision.” (Thoele, Michael, Fire Line: Summer Battles of the West, 1995, p. 14.)

Seems to me that maintaining the Big Box Firebreak year-round, recommended in the MCCPP, would provide a way of making the terrain an ally, providing firefighters with a safer place from which to battle these fires, protecting their lives and ours. Of course, others opinions may differ, and all points of view on this issue are welcome in the comment section below.

Part 4 will address defensible space and regulatory restrictions, another controversial recommendation.