Major new park district fuel reduction work in mid-canyon, by Bill McClung

BACK IN THE 1970S, the Conservancy’s secretary and newsletter editor, Marilyn Goldhaber, and her husband Nat lived on Park District land in a small farm house up a driveway about .2 miles above Gelston Road. They raised a few goats, which occasionally got loose onto Claremont Avenue, and generally took care of the land. Their place was connected to Gelston Road, the site of the original Marron ranch house, by an old utility road, along which the previous owners could walk under the live oaks and enjoy wonderful views of Claremont Canyon.

By the 1980s the Goldhabers had moved to Stonewall Road, the old farm house was removed by the Park District, and the pathway to Gelston was recolonized by the dense native north coastal scrub that now characterizes most of the south-facing side of Claremont Canyon. This year, that old farm road is being restored as a part of a major four-part effort of the Park District to improve the wildfire safety of the mid-Canyon area. Substantial reduction of fuels has been achieved around Gelston Road, the house, and the area that was logged in 2006 has been cleared of resprouts and weeds. When completed and maintained, this large area will provide a strategic link in the system of fuel breaks that may be critical to successful fire containment in the future.

We asked Assistant Fire Chief John Swanson to describe what has been done recently by the Park District to maintain and expand the Mid-Canyon fuel reduction zone and he provided these details:

“We removed between 60 and 75 trees from the “MidCanyon Site” on the slope above Claremont Avenue to reduce hazardous fuels, while at the same time improving wildlife habitat. Many of the trees were overhanging or could easily reach Claremont Avenue if they fell, so their removal also mitigates a long-term hazard to traffic and public safety. Most of the trees designated for removal were eucalyptus, though some bays and oaks were also removed to reduce
identified the project as within “proposed critical habitat” for the Alameda whipsnake.

“Tree removal work was preceded by some tree limbing and ladder fuel reduction by a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) crew from Delta Conservation Camp, under the direct supervision of a California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CALFIRE) fire captain. EBRPD Fire Captain Brian Cordeiro specified what work was to be done and then provided oversight.

“Trees were removed by a contractor, Phillips & Jordan, and a subcontractor under their direction. All trees to be removed were individually designated by EBRPD Resource Analyst Kerry Bearg, a professional forester. He was on the site daily to administer the contract and work with the contractor to ensure that the project’s fire hazard reduction objectives were being accomplished, while protecting natural resources. Fire Captain Brad Gallup, also a graduate forester, provided additional assistance and oversight.

“Vegetation Management Specialist David Amme from EBRPD’s Stewardship Department provided project implementation monitoring and advice.

“The contractor, Phillips & Jordan, was selected through a competitive bidding process.

“Funding was provided largely by a grant from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, through their National Fire Plan Wildland Urban Interface Initiative.

“In the coming weeks, we will be seeding native grasses onto areas of disturbed soil to provide soil cover and protection during the coming winter rainy season. Additionally, we will be assessing other site improvement needs, including maintenance activities for the next several years.

“Following ladder fuel reduction work at the MidCanyon site, the CDCR Delta Crew, supervised by EBRPD Fire Captain Cordeiro, cut and stacked brush and downed ladder fuels. The lower limbs of others were pruned to reduce the vertical continuity of fuels that could otherwise lead to fires ascending into the tree crowns, increasing fire intensity and leading to potential for mid to long-range spotting through ember production.

“The US Fish and Wildlife Service trees along an old trail that parallels Claremont Avenue between Gelston Street and the Mid-Canyon site. Piles will be burned when conditions are favorable.”

The Conservancy wishes to express its appreciation for everyone involved in this complex and challenging work.