Overview of work in the Canyon, by Marilyn Goldhaber, Joe Engbeck and Bill McClung

The Conservancy has worked closely with and supported the four major public landowners — East Bay Municipal Utility District, University of California, East Bay Regional Park District, and the City of Oakland — both to identify hazards and to seek programs of vegetation management that will reduce the chances of such disasters in the future. All agencies have acknowledged the hazards and responded with substantial programs, some supported by grants from FEMA.

Federal funding requires significant environmental reviews, including public comment, which is now under way for major programs on UC property in both Strawberry Canyon and Claremont Canyon. FEMA is currently reviewing public comments on the Draft Environmental Assessment for the Strawberry Canyon portion. The Claremont Canyon portion is expected to be open for public comments in the near future.

For the Strawberry Canyon portion, FEMA reported receiving 53 letters supporting the project and 24 opposing. While there will be differing points of view about publicly-funded projects of this sort, the Claremont Canyon Conservancy stands firm in its conviction that large-scale vegetation management is necessary to reduce the probability of future wildfires in our wildland canyons. The fire of 1923 along the northern ridge of Strawberry Canyon and the fires in 1970 and 1991 along the southern ridge of Claremont Canyon—each of which destroyed hundreds of homes—are unmistakable indicators of the power of wind-driven, wildland vegetation fires.

Judgments will vary on what and how vegetation management should be done to reduce the risks of wildfire, and we are keen to see continued long-term programs to mitigate those risks that will protect our communities and the ecological and aesthetic values in the wildlands we love so much.

It is our firm belief that inaction in the face of dangerous wildfire-fuel configurations that threaten our communities is not a rational response to hazards long identified by fire professionals. We commend the University for its efforts over the last seven years and want to express our appreciation to FEMA for providing additional funding to complete this important work in Strawberry and Claremont canyons. From our over 500 member-household and others in some 10,000 households potentially affected by major fires in either of these canyons, we believe there is overwhelming local public support for these projects.

We urge FEMA and UC to move this critically important work forward without delay.