By Mark Gutglueck
Substantial disagreement has arisen between a number of homeowners in a rustic area in the Lake Arrowhead area and those they have chosen to represent them as board members of their neighborhood’s homeowners’ association. Those differences pertain to the steps being taken as a means of reducing fire hazard in the less than one square mile district referred to as Upper Little Bear on the southwest side of Lake Arrowhead.
In 1890, farmers in San Bernadino, Redlands and Rialto proposed arresting the natural northward cascade of water on the west side of the San Bernardino Mountains to keep it from reaching the headwaters of the Mojave River and instead channeling it south into the San Bernardino Valley to irrigate and expand the thriving citrus groves there. Thereafter, a handful of investors formed the Arrowhead Reservoir Company, and set about buying water rights at the top of the mountain. With what was deemed to be enough of those water rights in hand, the company began work on a dam for what was then called Little Bear Lake. By 1907, the dam reached a height of 90 feet, and the lake, fed by melting snowpack and rain, began to fill.
The project had faced legal challenges from the outset, and in 1913, the Arrowhead Reservoir Company sustained a major blow when a court decision prevented the company from diverting water away from the Mojave River. With an already substantial lake in place, what was earlier intended as a reservoir was converted into a recreational community surrounding the lake shore.
In 1922, Little Bear Lake was renamed Lake Arrowhead. Nevertheless, the district at the southwest end of the lake along Little Bear Creek retained the name Upper Little Bear, immediately next to the community of Blue Jay.
Today, the Upper Little Bear Mountain Club Homeowners Association exists as a confederation of the owners of 38 relatively upscale cabins, most, but not all, of which are second homes to those who have title to them, contained on less than 50 acres at the 5,200 elevation that features a natural topography that is part of an indigenous mixed conifer-oak forest containing native wildland fauna and flora. Dominating the stands are ponderosa pine, Jeffrey pine, white fir, incense cedar, sugar pine, black oak, and live oak species, with understory shrub species that include ceanothus and manzanita. The Upper Little Bear District lies juxtaposed to and intermixed with the National Forest.
A basic wildfire mitigation strategy that has been developed by foresters and the U.S. Forest Service over the years is termed “fuel reduction.”
In explicating the concept of fuel reduction, the U.S. Forest Service states, “The objective is to remove enough vegetation or fuel so that when a wildfire burns, it is less severe and can be more easily managed. When vegetation, or fuels, accumulate, they allow fires to burn hotter, faster, and with higher flame lengths. When fire encounters areas of continuous brush or small trees, it can burn these ‘ladder fuels’ and may quickly move from a ground fire into the treetops, creating a crown fire. Thinning trees, removing underbrush, and limbing trees are done using hand crews or machines. Cut material is ground into chips or piled and burned during the winter.”
Areas such as Upper Little Bear qualify as what is defined as a “wildland urban interface.” According to the U.S. Forest Service, “Much of the effort in fuels reduction is focused in and around wildland urban interface developments both inside and outside of parks. Effective fuels mitigation treatments are implemented across jurisdictional boundaries, on adjoining private lands in coordination, collaboration and in partnership with local communities and their governing mechanisms. Projects of this type include fuel breaks, thinning, pruning, landscape modifications, etc.”
The U.S. Forest Service shares jurisdictional responsibility over the San Bernardino Mountains with other governmental entities, which include the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known by its acronym CALFIRE, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department and the San Bernardino County Fire Department.
In reaction to a series of generally worsening and devastating fires, then-Governor Jerry Brown by executive order created the California Forest Management Task Force, making the funding for that unit what was intended to be a permanent part of the annual state budgetary process, simultaneously increasing from 250,000 to 500,000 the number of acres slated for fuel mitigation.
Traditionally, the board of the Upper Little Bear Homeowners Association has been granted relative autonomy in acting in what has essentially been deemed the best interest of the Upper Little Bear community as a whole. Less than thorough minutes of the board’s meetings are generated, ones that do little more than note the outcome of votes taken or actions initiated, and which do not reflect any spirited debate or differences over those policies, which for the most part have not occurred in any event, at least until recently.
That changed when the board, essentially on its own volition and with little or actually no input from its members’ constituents, after taking stock of what the State of California fuel reduction program offered through CalFire at no cost to communities falling within the wildland urban interface, applied to be put on the roster for intensive tree cutting.
Minutes of the Upper Little Bear Homeowners Association Board meetings are not routinely publicly available. Using deduction, based on known quantifiables and a few minutes that have leaked out, the most recent request to CalFire for the fuel reduction strategy to be applied in Upper Little Bear was made in January or February of 2021, with no fanfare, such that most or perhaps even all residents of the community other than the board were not aware of the application. In CalFire’s processing of the request, notification of the pending tree cutting in Upper Little Bear was made to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, such that by April 2021, a biologist with the department, Edith Martinez, penned a letter noting that CalFire crews should use caution in carrying out the thinning process to prevent destruction to the habitat of several species known to inhabit the area in and around Upper Little Bear, including the southern rubber boa snakes and any birds that would be nesting in the trees to be taken down. Martinez noted in the letter that CalFire or its contractors would need to obtain a specialized permit under Fish and Game Code Section 86 if the animals needed to be captured and relocated or potentially killed in carrying out the fuel reduction program.
It is not clear whether Martinez’s letter was actually sent and delivered to CalFire or how it was processed if it was delivered.
At issue is a pointed disagreement as to both the efficacy of the fuel reduction program as pursued by CalFire in preventing conflagrations and the wisdom of the strategy in terms of the trade-off it involves in terms of havoc to the flora eradicated and damage to the habitat of the animals living within the biosphere of the flora that is removed.
The rationale provided for the CalFire strategy of fuel reduction is that by thinning the forest of smaller trees and brush, the “fuel load” is reduced and the distance between trees is increased, lowering the potential for the contagion of fire once it has begun.
Countervailing that theory is that by eradicating trees, which do not catch fire, relatively, as quickly as sparse or even thick bushes and grasses, a vacuum of space is created and that vacuum, if not immediately then eventually, is filled with grasses and shrubs that burn quickly and serve as kindling, when a fire does come, to ignite the trees around them. Moreover, critics of the aggressive natural scrub brush scraping and tree cutting approach assert that leaving the indigenous plants and small trees in place serves to provide shade and prevent evaporation and the retention of moisture, which can, to a point, retard the progression or initiation of a fire. The U.S. Forest Service previously used federal funds before they became unavailable to engage in fuel reduction efforts. Now, CalFire is using state money to carry out fuel reduction. Opponents of the process say chain saws or masticators that have been used in other areas are utilized to clear out trees and vegetation, and embedded in the teeth of the masticators or the blades of the saws are seeds of combustible and invasive grasses from other areas, which are thereby transplanted to the land being cleared. This, those advocating against the fuel reduction strategy maintain, reduces native species and often increases invasive species of plants, including grasses and vegetation that are commonly more vulnerable to catching fire rapidly and leading to the spread of flames than the indigenous plants and understory growth that is being removed.
In Upper Little Bear the project confines itself to approximately 40 acres of the forest, which are of lesser and greater proximity to homes and are thus designated as lying within a so-called “state responsibility area.” The already accomplished and planned fuel reduction treatments extend to cutting down trees up to 12 inches in diameter at breast height to an average spacing of 20 feet between tree trunks. Residual trees have been or are to be pruned to a height of eight feet or ½ the tree height, whichever is less. All vegetation within the drip-line of residual trees has been or will be removed using chainsaws or a masticator, according to CalFire. Ground-based equipment, including a rubber tracked skid-steer and rubber tracked chipper, has been and will continue to be used throughout the project area. Dead wood, to the extent that it has or will become apparent, has been or will either be chipped or covered with clear plastic. Within chaparral dominated areas, up to 85% of brush groundcover has been or will be masticated or cut using chainsaws and chipped onsite or piled and burned in order to create a mosaic of islands of vegetation of various natural appearing shapes and sizes. Vegetation cut using chainsaws will either be chipped onsite or piled and burned. CalFire has expressed the intention of engaging in the inter-planting of seedlings in the future. CalFire maintains that erosion control measures and project design features have been incorporated into the project so that significant adverse impacts to resources will be non-existent.
Among those who are critical of the fuel reduction strategy being applied in Upper Little Bear are Dr. Chad Hanson, Ph.D., of the Earth Island Institute, an ecologist who is a co-founder of the John Muir Project; Steve Loe, a retired U.S. Forest Service biologist; and Hugh Bialecki of the Save Our Forest Association.
Hanson told the Sentinel, “A large and growing body of scientific evidence is now telling us that removing trees from forests is most often associated with faster and more intense wildfires, despite misleading terms like ‘thinning’ and ‘fuel reduction’ being used to promote these projects. The reason is simple. Wildfires are driven mostly by weather and climate factors – hot, dry, windy conditions – and when trees are removed it reduces the cooling shade of the forest canopy, which alters the microclimate of the forest and makes it more susceptible to extreme weather and climate. In a nutshell, removing trees and mature shrubs makes the forest hotter and drier, and it reduces the windbreak effect that denser forests have against the gusts that drive flames. In addition, after ‘thinning’ and mastication, we invariably see a dramatic increase in the spread of highly flammable invasive grasses, like cheatgrass, while the masticated wood chips act like kindling in a wildfire.”
Hanson continued, “Interestingly, study after study also find that dead wood doesn’t increase fire intensity, and may actually reduce it. The reason is that downed logs soak up and retain huge amounts of water, like giant sponges. In fact, even in a drought year, downed logs can hold 25 times more water per cubic area than the surrounding soil.”
Additionally, Hanson said, “The current science is also telling us that the only effective way to protect homes is to help homeowners conduct ‘home hardening,’ by which homes are made more fire-resistant by installing ember-proof exterior vents, rain gutter guards, and sweeping needles and leaves off of roofs, as well as by creating ‘defensible space,’ which entails pruning within 100 feet around homes. This includes removing lower limbs, seedlings, dry grasses and accumulations of dry leaves and needles immediately adjacent to homes. Beyond 100 feet from homes, there is no additional benefit to vegetation management in terms of home protection. In fact, we are now seeing many cases where, unfortunately, thinning and mastication in wildlands beyond 100 feet from homes have been associated with faster and hotter wildfires that have burned down communities, such as the Camp Fire of 2018, the Dixie Fire of 2021, the Caldor Fire of 2021, and of course the Grass Valley Fire of 2007, which rapidly burned through a large ‘thinning’ area west of Lake Arrowhead and burned down 199 homes. So, we know that the tree cutting approach that CalFire is implementing right now in the Upper Little Bear area is a proven failure, and actually increases the threat of wildfire to communities. The vast majority of the acreage that they are cutting is more than 100 feet from homes, and doing that won’t protect homes from fire – it will make things worse.”
Steve Loe was for 30 years employed by the federal government as a biologist with the U.S. Forest Service, in which capacity he was assigned to the San Bernardino National Forest.
“During my time on the forest, I tried to work with San Bernardino County and local residents to manage the National Forest lands and private land in such a manner that the mountains would continue to support healthy populations of plants and animals,” Loe said.
The situation in Upper Little Bear was brought to his attention recently he said.
“I met with representatives of the homeowners’ association and walked the site, which is an important wildlife corridor that extends from the north side of the San Bernardino Mountains to the south side. There are fox, bobcat, coyote, mule deer, black bear, spotted owl – a sensitive species – and other owls, all types of birds and a lot of hawks crossing through the area where development has happened to much of the natural habitat. It is an important corridor and connects to the Protected Arrowhead Ridge Preserve. It is habitat for the southern rubber boa, another threatened species. All of these species and the ecological function of the area are affected by what is being done to the forest in that spot, in my opinion. I sent a letter to CalFire, telling them that they are treating the area all the same way, when from an ecological standpoint, different parts of the parcel should be treated differently. Areas adjacent to Arrowhead Ridge preserved lands should be treated differently than the forest stands next to the houses. Research has shown that the way to keep houses from burning is to treat the area around homes and the homes themselves really well so fire and burning ash and embers do not get to houses and catch them on fire. You do not need to treat an area that is a quarter of a mile away from where the homes are the same way you treat the areas right up next to the houses.”
Loe continued, “I told them how important it was not to use the same prescription in the entire forest. Areas with a lot of invasive grasses should not be opened too much or invasive grasses will increase, making the fuels more flashy. Areas away from homes in the drainages should be left denser to protect the soil and avoid erosion. Other small islands with less treatment should be left away from homes. Leaving shrubs in these islands will provide food and cover for the rodents and their predators and deer, as well as providing hiding areas for wildlife living in and moving through the wildlife corridor that is shared with the San Bernardino Mountains Land Trust on Arrowhead Ridge.”
Loe noted, “Many of the animals that come through those corridors feed on rodents and other small animals that live in and feed on the shrubs. Rubber boas also need cover from down logs and piles of vegetation. Cleaning up all of woody debris on the forest floor will adversely affect the boa. They do not need a ‘clean park’ setting. We need the right kind of prescription that takes care of the animals while protecting the homes. I intend to ask CalFire to hold a meeting and have workshop to look at the treatment prescription and see if it can be modified to meet both objectives.”
A more nuanced approach to the overall situation and the objections that concerned residents are expressing about the Upper Little Bear Homeowners Association Board’s embrace of the CalFire fuel reduction strategy is called for, Loe said.
“In Upper Little Bear, the residents did not know permission had been granted by the homeowners association to CalFire for this plan,” Loe said. “The only way to get out of that is to consider new prescriptions which are not intended to open the land up so much that it looks and acts like a park. You can do that. What is called for is a prescription – a treatment – that varies with the conditions and need for treatment. We need to leave the forest as natural as we can while protecting the homes. It can be done.”
Hugh Bialecki is the president of the Save Our Forest Association. He told the Sentinel, “What’s unfortunate here, from my perspective, is you have a homeowners’ association board looking out for the property owners that has invited CalFire in to do a well-meaning fire hazard reduction program, and CalFire has a one-size-fits-all prescription for how it is going to protect those homes. This means they are removing trees with a diameter of 12 inches at chest level, which means that some of the trees coming out range from 15-to-25 years old. Climate change is changing things, and as the ground becomes more dry, trees are growing more slowly.”
In addition to the forest’s flora, Bialecki said, consideration needs to be given to its fauna.
“In addition, that is an area where there is a wildlife corridor,” he said. “The determination should come down to ‘What is the best balance between public safety and environmental protection? How do we protect people and their homes and the wildlife going through the corridor?’ Some believe CalFire is way too aggressive in what is being carried out, and that there are alternatives. In particular, there is a difference of opinion between the biological experts and the people on the ground carrying out this action. It is difficult because since the homeowners’ association voted to go ahead with this and many of the homeowners are on board with what the board decided to do and they are not willing to do something different or change what they are asking CalFire to do, there is not much in the way of recourse.”
There is a clear divide among the residents of the Upper Little Bear district, Bialecki said.
“I have talked with some of the other homeowners who feel like this is more than they realized what is going to be happening, but they are going along with it because the homeowners’ association board has to be responsible for the 40 plus acres of that small community, and all things being considered, the program is probably the right thing to do,” Bialecki said. “Others feel it is too much to be taking down trees that are up to or more than 12 inches in diameter.”
With regard to the number of and size of trees being cut down, Bialecki said, “I have had conversations with CalFire personnel, whom I respect. Their attitude is ‘We think something needs to be done and the homeowners’ board agrees with us.’”
Nevertheless, Bialecki said, there are those with expertise in the realm of forest management who do not accept that the CalFire’s strategy is the only or even the best method of reducing the fire hazard in wildland urban interface areas such as Upper Little Bear. He contrasted CalFire’s approach with that of Southern California Edison, which has a project nearby. Edison, he said, is being far more conservative in its alteration of the forest, and is consulting with biologists and foresters prior to any of the ground cover or tree removals it engages in.
“There is a lot of valuable wildlife habitat there,” Bialecki said. “I believe that with regard to its bush clearing and tree cutting, CalFire could have been or still could be less aggressive and should be willing to at least modify the prescription, and tone it down a little bit, based on their own discretion. That may or may not happen in terms of any moderation. I was hoping, before I walked the site, that the level of tree removal was going to be less than what I saw. I think the prescription they are using removes trees that are too large.”
Bialecki pointed out that a similar fuel removal program is being carried out by CalFire among coastal redwoods near Santa Cruz, where the regrowth rate is more favorable than in the San Bernardino Mountains, and that the trees removed there are not as large.
“There is a lot more rainfall along the coast,” Bialecki said. “We have much drier conditions and here the tree growth is slower. Reseeding other than for cedar trees is not happening to the same degree. There are fewer of the same types of conifers than there were before. With the drought we are in, it is even worse.”
Bialecki said he sees room for a compromise that would meet the perceived need for action to limit the fire hazard in the Upper Little Bear area while minimizing damage to the forest. He recommended that CalFire consider limiting tree removals in Upper Little Bear to “what was being done previously, which was six-to-eight inches at breast height. CalFire in Santa Cruz is using an eight inches-and-under standard. If CalFire stays with the 12 inches, they are going to continue to be taking trees that took 25 years to grow. You are not going to get that kind of regrowth for 25 years or more. The prescription they are working under is 12 inches or less. We question the removal of trees of that size. You can back off of that somewhat and use a standard that is more conservative, I believe.”
With what would be a minimal degree of focus by responsible parties within CalFire’s administration on crucial distinctions and particulars, Bialecki said, some elements of the Upper Little Bear controversy can be resolved.
“Much of this directly relates to how the people who are doing the work are being supervised,” Bialecki said. “The supervisors of the work crews should be allowed some discretion so that in applying the prescription they err on the conservative side when there is some doubt.”
Some residents of the Upper Little Bear Community expressed frustration at the manner by which the board members of the homeowners’ association arrived at the decision to invite CalFire to engage in the fuel reduction strategy program. The board members, those residents say, presumed there would be universal support for the tree cutting among the homeowners they represent, and then ignored the protests of those who objected to the plan and have now stubbornly dug in their heels in seeking to maintain the policy in face of burgeoning opposition to it.
Ed Reichardt, the current president of the board said that the board sought to participate in the fuel reduction program offered by CalFire and then entered into an agreement to allow CalFire to begin the cutting of the trees and curtail the forest undergrowth “because the work is necessary. We made a decision to proceed with the project in accordance with the wishes of a majority of the homeowners. We have a small faction that disagree or want to entertain an alternative approach. They are now at a minority of 3.5-to-one at the last vote. The HOA [homeowners’ association] is bound by the laws of the State of California, and we have to abide by the rules. The membership [of the HOA] favors the approach of using CalFire’s program, which is a tried and true method.”
There is a body of scientific data that justifies engaging in fuel reduction, Reichardt said.
“We have a number of well-established species of trees – pines, conifers, firs – that have been overtaken by cedars and some of the dense undergrowth that takes the nutrients from the soil and competes with those trees and makes them vulnerable to the bark beetle, other pests, disease and fires,” he said. “CalFire has been involved in forest management for decades and decades. There are a minority of foresters that have different opinions and a different way of thinking about how to manage the growth. Their opinions are more applicable and appropriate to large forests and not urban forests. Some of those voices have been brought to the attention of our community and we have listened. We are incorporating their principles wherever it makes sense.”
Reichardt said, “There is also an instigator in our community that’s done a lot to bring the press into the discussion and a lot of misleading and outright false information has been published. This is a manipulation by a small minority of seasonal residents and even one person who has no financial interest whatsoever in our community.”
In the face of that, Reichardt said, “Regardless, we listen. We have had on-site meetings with their expert, Dr. Chad Hanson, and we considered a lot of what he said and rationalized it with what CalFire has said on [the same issues] and have adopted the position that mechanical mastication in not necessary on our project. There have been concerns raised by members about the rubber boa, and that has been addressed by communication between CalFire and the California Department of Wildlife.”
Reichardt said, “The homeowners’ association is entertaining hiring a biologist to assess the risks on our property. That will be predicated on a number of factors. We are willing to take up the study as we are listening to everyone, even though they are a minority. Our determinations are made in compliance with the Davis Sterling Act, the law in California that governs condominium, cooperative, and planned unit development communities.”
Of those who are objecting to the homeowners’ association arrangement with CalFire, Reichardt said, “A lot of things are being exaggerated. We have bent over backwards to hear their input and that has been put into our plan. There is a small handful of about ten percent of the homeowners or less that have raised concerns about CalFire’s approach, and we have tried to implement the input we have received from their expert. That has been missing from previous reports about this. The board is deciding what is best to be carried out on behalf of the community. We are trying to work toward mutually acceptable solutions by factoring in all the information to make the best decision in terms of mitigating the fire hazards and ensuring safety. We are trying to take the most responsible approach possible.”
“Reichardt noted, “This work has been under way for more than five years. There has been a delay because they [CalFire] were busy fighting fires in other parts of the state. We received a grant from CalFire to do this work that would be hard for a community like ours to [defray]. They have been working on it recently, which is of benefit to us as well as for the surrounding mostly developed and more urbanized areas of Blue Jay and Lake Arrowhead.”
The application with CalFire for the fuel reduction program to be applied in Upper Little Bear was made prior to Reichardt becoming president. The previous president, Bill Reeves, was a prime mover in getting CalFire to include Upper Little Bear in its statewide effort to reduce fuel on 500,000 acres of forest land.
“We are not thinning the trees,” Reeves asserted. “We are removing brush and trees that are under a certain diameter, some of the smallest trees that are less than ten inches in diameter measured at the four-foot level, which is the standard way of measuring trees. Most of the trees we are taking down are under two feet tall. There is a group of up to five people who are opposed to that practice, some of who say we should not cut down any trees, no matter how big or small they are. They have a different philosophy. The majority of us believe in proceeding with what we have done for many many years. This is not the first time we have done this. This is what we have done about every ten years or so. All of these people are new to the area. I can’t say exactly, but most have moved to [Upper Little Bear] within the last six or seven years. They are the newest owners in the community.”
Asked if he could speak to the logic of those, such as Hanson, who reason that clearing the forest of smaller trees and natural undergrowth reduces shade, exposes trees to evaporation along with wind and therefore abundant oxygen, and introduces invasive non-native grasses that upon drying convert into ready-made kindling, Reeves said, “I can’t help you with the reason for why they believe that. We are not saying that the approach others like Dr. Hanson are advocating is necessarily wrong. They would just let every tree grow. If you were to do that, in my opinion and in the opinion of others, the forest would not be as healthy and there would be more ladder fuel to burn the tall trees that are 100 feet tall. What we are doing is cutting the lower branches of trees and removing the chaparral. They are cutting a few trees, but they are under ten inches in diameter.”
Reeves said, “This land we’re on where we are doing this was originally Forest Service land. We are doing exactly what the Forest Service did. We did not have this problem until the bark beetle came in 2003. It killed 1,300 trees which had previously shaded the forest. Before that, we did not have as many of these little trees because of the canopy the larger trees provided and we did not have that much sun on the ground, if you follow me. When the bark beetle came, it immediately changed the forest because so many of these tall trees were cut down and left open space between the remaining trees. Deerbrush, buckthorn, manzanita rapidly grew because they were getting so much light and water. That underbrush rapidly grew. My family has had a cabin in this area since 1933. I have never seen that much growth there before. That growth represents a lot more danger. It is called ladder fuel. That brush in some places is ten or fifteen feet high and is very flammable. When our land was a forest, the Forest Service came through just about every ten years and removed a lot of the trees that were diseased or dying or too close together. That happened time after time again. When the homeowners traded other land for the land we’re on, we continued to do that, which was considered a best practice.”
He and the members of the homeowners’ association board have not suddenly taken it upon themselves to alter policy and destroy the forest, Reeves said.
“In 2010, we did exactly what we are doing now except San Bernardino County did a majority of the work,” he related. “We also did some work through a project called Forest Care, where we applied for a grant. The federal government paid for 75 percent and we paid 25 percent. All of the work was done by certified contractors approved by the federal government.”
Dr. JoAnna Schilling, who is a member of the Homeowners Association Forest Committee, told the Sentinel, “The majority of the membership supports the CalFire project and we have received regular updates on the project from Bill Reeves since he first started exploring the grant funding with CalFire. We held an informal vote at the last membership meeting and the project was overwhelmingly supported.”
Of the work CalFire is doing, Schilling insisted, “It is not a ‘mastication’ project. It is a fuel treatment or fuel reduction project. That’s the correct language. Note that while the official project proposal includes reference to mastication, that is only so that CalFire has the capacity to use all available tools as needed. However, no mastication has been done, and as of today, use of mastication is not anticipated.”
Schilling said, “Dr Hanson, who is the only scientist that a small number of our community has relied on for a dissenting opinion, frequently conflates fuel reduction treatments with logging, which is not accurate. The most important distinction between the two is that logging removes the largest, oldest and most valuable trees from the landscape while thinning removes small trees and shrubs and leaves older mature trees standing. Also note there’s little to no commercial value for the smaller trees and shrubs. This is not a profit-driven endeavor. I agree with many of Dr. Hanson’s points, including the detrimental effects of logging and how that has contributed to the catastrophic state fires in the northern portion of our state, especially the Camp Fire, and also think his ideas of home hardening are very sound and should be implemented in our community. I just don’t believe it makes sense to only conduct home hardening, and leave the forest to burn. This doesn’t seem the right way to protect our wildlife and natural resources.”
Schilling took issue with the concept of allowing the forest to grow in accordance with its natural progression, unhindered by human efforts to alter its concentration.
“There’s really no dispute among any credible scientists that the current density of our forests is way outside the norms for the last 10,000 years due to 100-plus years of fire suppression,” she said. “The overwhelming consensus among forest ecologists and fire scientists is that fuel reduction treatments work, whether mechanical and/or via prescribed fire. Dr. Hanson’s claim that reductions in forest canopy lead to hotter, drier forests have not been proven by his peers. In fact, breaks in forest canopy lead to greater species diversity. For example, shade tolerant trees such as cedars dominate in dense forests. Also, his theory that catastrophic fire is wind-driven rather than fuel-driven is widely refuted. The reality is much more complex and they are intertwined. One cannot be separated from the other.”
Some of those determined to force a reappraisal of the fuel reduction approach who hoped to stop it from proceeding beyond the roughly three weeks of clearing that took place in November and the first part of December hoped that they had been granted a grace period by the snow that halted the project in December. They were further banking on the prospect that CalFire would desist from tree cuttings and undergrowth eradication long enough to reach the bird breeding period that will kick off in March and last through June, such that anti-fuel reduction program activists could rally local, state and even federal officials at all levels to put a halt to the approach, such that other methods of hardening the existing homes against fire hazards would take precedence over the practice of artificially thinning the forest. This week, however, the Sentinel received a report that a CalFire crew was present in Upper Big Bear, proceeding with the prescription.
By Mark Gutglueck