Cal Fire issues grant to UC Berkeley for managing vegetation for wildfire safety

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Joe McBride, a UC Berkeley forestry professor emeritus, and the Claremont Canyon Conservancy issued a proposal to manage vegetation for campus property located in the Strawberry and Claremont canyons.

UC Berkeley will be receiving a grant from Cal Fire to make the hills above campus, the campus itself, and the surrounding community safer in the event of a major wildfire. A fuel management and wildfire mitigation proposal was published in anticipation of the grant.

“The plan will identify site-specific fuel reduction treatments to reduce the fire hazard present in naturally occurring vegetation types, and to convert highly hazardous plantations of eucalyptus and conifer species to less hazardous naturally occurring vegetation types,” McBride said.

The initial cost for implementing the plan is estimated to be $3,431,750. The cost of periodic maintenance will amount to $71,460 per year.

Residential areas of Berkeley and Oakland adjacent to the campus and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory are situated in a fire hazard zone, according to a report issued by the Claremont Canyon Conservancy. This is because of the vegetation, topography and climatic conditions of the area.

Not much can be done about the topography or climate conditions of the land, but defensible space, including agency fuel management, can reduce the heat caused by fires. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s website, “defensible space is an area around a building in which vegetation, debris and other types of combustible fuels have been treated, cleared, or reduced to slow the spread of fire to and from the building.”

“We can’t prevent any wildfires, but we can reduce the risk of wildfires and that’s what Professor McBride’s paper is about,” said Jon Kaufman, the president of the board at Claremont Canyon Conservancy. “We wrote the plan over the summer and we’re interested in getting it implemented very soon.”

David Cota, a facilities construction manager at Berkeley Lab, said the surrounding areas face challenges due to their topography. Cota added that while grasses and shrubs can cause wildfires, they also help protect the hills from landslides. Striking a balance in the number of shrubs is crucial, according to Cota.

Along with the proposal, goats are used by the campus and the Berkeley Lab for fuel mitigation and the eradication of undesirable plant species. The campus and the Berkeley Lab are clients of Goats R Us, an organization that provides communities with environmentally friendly vegetation management through goat grazing.

Terri Oyarzùn, co-owner of Goats R Us, said she thinks people have to “take up an interest” in resolving the problem. 

“We can’t give too much responsibility to one agency to shuffle up everything to one person. We wouldn’t want to wait for the crisis and say, ‘Oh, now what?’ ” Oyarzùn said.

Contact Marc Escobar at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @mescobar_dc.