Planning Commission recommends more time, adding herbicide to vegetation management plan


Last updated 9/4/2008 at Noon

The county’s Planning Commission made recommendations to the San Diego County Board of Supervisors on a proposed vegetation management plan for the county and will also be sending two commissioners to the Forest Area Safety Task Force’s vegetation reduction and fuels management subcommittee meetings to provide input to the draft plan being developed.

The recommendations approved August 22 include extending the time period for completion of the vegetation management plan report, adding herbicide treatment for non-native vegetation, and noting existing County of San Diego policies oriented toward reducing the risk of wildfire damage to structures.

“This should really be a nine to twelve month process to bring this input in,” said Planning Commissioner Michael Beck. “Let’s give the process the time.”

Planning Commissioner Adam Day was willing to accept the extended time period as long as some recommendations could be implemented sooner. “I’m not in support of having endless committee meetings,” Day said. “I think we’ve got to come to a point where we have good strategies.”

Beck and Day, as well as the other four commissioners present August 22, were agreeable to a 9-12 month timeframe for completion of the plan while recommending specific actions as soon as possible.

Beck and Day often disagree on various matters, and both will represent the Planning Commission at the Forest Area Safety Task Force subcommittee meetings. Day initially recommended Beck for the position due to Beck’s expertise in habitat, whereupon Beck recommended a second commissioner to balance the perceptions many members of the public have of Beck.

“Everyone acknowledges this is a complex life and death issue,” Beck said. “Everyone is doing the best they can under the circumstances.”

The circumstances include a May 14 Board of Supervisors action which directed county staff to develop a comprehensive vegetation management program to be incorporated into the land management plans for all existing and future county-owned lands and directed the county’s Chief Administrative Officer to return to the supervisors within 90 days to present such a plan which would include mechanical, biological, and prescribed burns. The supervisors’ summer recess extended the 90-day period, and the supervisors’ hearing is tentatively scheduled for September 24.

The Forest Area Safety Task Force is assisting county staff in developing the vegetation management plan, and the first preliminary draft of the vegetation management plan was released July 24. If the draft plan’s outline is approved, the plan’s four sections will begin with an introduction which includes the county’s fire history. The second section will address fuel management tools including hand cutting, goats and other masticators, and prescribed burns. The third section outlines plans for the nine priority areas, while the fourth section will contain recommendations and next steps. A revised version of the draft was in the editing phases August 22 and was not available to the Planning Commission that day.

An update on the vegetation management plan was heard by the Planning Commission August 8 as a director’s report, but concerns over the effectiveness of the plan led to the five commissioners present that day desiring to have the issue return as an action item. In addition to the recommendations, the Planning Commission’s August 22 vote included forwarding a summary of comments from the August 8 meeting.

The August 8 comments included concerns from both the public and the commissioners that a comprehensive plan could not feasibly be completed within 90 days, although the August 8 comments include a suggestion to process an “early action plan” which would be separate from the report.

The August 8 meeting also included comments that a comprehensive program was needed to address wildland fire threat and should also include planning and design concepts and regulations, building standards, evacuation routes and shelters, outreach and enforcement programs on clearing, and undergrounding power lines. The Planning Commission letter to the supervisors will highlight the county’s existing policies.

Other concerns expressed August 8 were that the plan was not science-based and that more input was needed from scientists, that fires including controlled burns cause native vegetation to be replaced with more flammable non-native weeds and grasses, and that the plan may be susceptible to a California Environmental Quality Act challenge.

The August 22 recommendations also included that the vegetation management plan report be referred to the Planning Commission for review and recommendation prior to being considered by the Board of Supervisors.

During the August 22 hearing, Richard Halsey of the California Chaparral Institute noted that many of the structures lost in the October 2007 fires were ignited by non-native vegetation. “There is so much attention on the native vegetation,” he said. “No one’s getting the right message.”

Education specialist Anne Fege suggested the addition of herbicide treatment for non-native species. Fege also urged the Planning Commission to co-sponsor an educational forum on the scientific aspects involving fire fuels and ecology.

Fege noted that a recent study of the October 2007 Witch Fire covered approximately 6,000 homes in the fire’s footprint and assessed why some homes burned and others were saved. “We have the best data of anywhere in the country right now and we can learn from it,” she said.

The scheduling of a workshop did not need to be addressed in the Planning Commission’s recommendations on the vegetation management plan report, but the commissioners were supportive of such an endeavor. “To me it seems very appropriate to get a little more involved,” said Commissioner Bryan Woods.

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