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The Science Behind Vegetation Management

May 19, 2022

On May 10th, MWPA and the Ecologically Sound Practices (ESP) Partnership collaborated to host an informative webinar on the science behind vegetation management, specifically, shaded fuel breaks. The webinar featured three subject-matter experts from both inside and outside of Marin County resulting in a well-rounded conversation that addressed this complex solution.

Guest Speakers included:

Michael Jones, a forestry advisor at UC Cooperative Extension

Paul Lowenthal, the division chief fire marshall at Santa Rosa Fire Department

Carl Sanders, the natural resources manager at Marin Municipal Water District (MMWD)

Michael Jones began with a broad overview of various vegetation management techniques with a focus on shaded fuelbreaks. He provided supporting research that highlighted the potential ecological benefits of strategically planned projects. The main takeaway from this segment was that shaded fuel breaks are not intended to stop a wildfire in its tracks. Instead, they are intended to alter fire behavior in a beneficial way while also improving forest health.

The second segment was led by Paul Lowenthal and went over how their shaded fuel breaks fared in the 2017, 2019, and 2020 fires in Sonoma County. Bottom line: a systems approach is necessary in order to have the best outcomes in a wildfire scenario. This holistic approach includes adequate defensible space, hardened homes, and clear evacuation routes in addition to judiciously placed shaded fuel breaks. The MWPA has translated this approach into its five major goals and uses this information to create a diverse work plan each year.

Finally, the last speaker was Carl Sanders. He brought the discussion back to the work that is being done in Marin County. Specifically, he focused on how MMWD has tried to use the best available science, in addition to their own research, to strategically manage the Mt. Tamalpais watershed in a way that maximizes forest health, while also protecting critical water infrastructure. He emphasized how the MWPA, MMWD, and other stakeholder’s approaches complement one another to create conditions where wildfires would have a slower rate of spread and shorter flame lengths.

To learn more about the science behind shaded fuel breaks and about the holistic approach that the MWPA is taking to protect Marin County, watch the discussion recording here.

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