Project Implementation in High-Risk Regions – San Diego River

Department: San Diego River Conservancy

Program Description: The San Diego River Conservancy is working to advance the objectives to strengthen fire resilience, including maintaining fire breaks and defensible space, fuel reduction, restoration, and procurement of new fire apparatus, emergency equipment, and fire trucks. These actions will enhance the management of fire-prone habitats using methods known to reduce the risk and intensity of fires, improve fire access roads, and provide for other fire and forest resilience activities.

Program Impact: Early action investments began with projects to create defensible space and fuel breaks and reduce mostly non-native invasive species in the cities of San Diego, El Cajon, and Santee. The County of San Diego Department of Parks and Recreation will focus on reducing fuel loads on more than 10,000 acres in its parks and preserves. In addition, the Cleveland National Forest is implementing activities for hazard fuel reduction and wildfire emergency preparedness in the headwater of the San Diego and Tijuana Rivers, including the relocation of a helicopter landing zone for access in this remote area. Furthermore, the Conservancy awarded more than $1 million to local Bands within the Kumeyaay Nation for wildfire resilience, vegetation management equipment and two new Type 3 fire engines (Brush Rigs) one to the Barona Band of Mission Indians and one for the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians.

Through a grant to the Resource Conservation District (RCD) of Greater San Diego County, they have provided hazardous fuel reduction removal to hundreds of private landowners at no cost to disabled and low-income homes in the San Diego area. The project targeted landowners in the Wildland Urban Interface areas. Services provided include chipping and establishing defensible space around homes designated by CalFIRE as high-fire risk zones in San Diego County.

The San Diego River Conservancy reduced its timeline from nine months to three weeks to get grants signed, and work started. As a result, projects were able to launch by Memorial Day 2021 and expedited project implementation by a full year. A regular budget appropriation beginning in July with a 9-month grant process would only have seen projects launch on Memorial Day 2022.

Resilience in Action:

United States Forest Service – Cleveland National Forest

The Cleveland National Forest’s Wildfire Resilience and Forest Health project will reduce fuel loads across approximately 1,855 acres, 100 miles of road brushing and maintenance, and prescribed fire supplies. This project also includes conducting more than 700 forest stand exams which will protect sensitive resources and assist in planning future work to restore oak woodlands and expand forest management. Project sites within the Cleveland National Forest include the San Diego River, Sweetwater River, and Tijuana River watersheds.

The project also includes the construction of a helicopter landing zone and three 10,000-gallon underground water tanks to provide a local source of water to help reduce wildfire severity and improve the safety of visitors and first responders in this remote area. These improvements are located at Cha’chaany Hamuk Trailhead (formerly Three Sisters Falls Trailhead) in a remote area of the San Diego River’s upper watershed. This multi-faceted project was designed to enhance the capability for wildfire suppression and rescue people within the High Fire Severity Threat Zone. To support this added workload, Cleveland National Forest will hire additional employees to ensure the protection of sensitive and cultural resources and surge staffing for prescribed fire.

Kumeyaay Diegueño Land Conservancy

Through the Kumeyaay Diegueño Land Conservancy, the Campo Band of Mission Indians, the Campo Fire Protection District, the Jamul Indian Village, the Manzanita Band of the Kumeyaay Nation, the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians, and the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation, will use wildfire funds to procure fire-related equipment during wildland fire events. These tribal reservations are designated by CAL FIRE as a very high Fire Hazard Severity Zone and cover more than 57,000 acres. The project will provide new fire vehicles and fire-related equipment such as skid steers with masticators to help reduce the risk of fire by implementing fuel reduction, vegetation management, defensible space, and fuel breaks targeting the removal of diseased, dead, and dying trees.

Native American Conservation Corp (Pilot Project)

The Colorado Desert District of the California Department of Parks and Recreation was the lead agency for this project. State Parks developed a two-year pilot program for local people to participate in training for fire and forest resiliency activities in San Diego County. The goal is to increase employment opportunities for local Native Americans with their respective tribes, State Parks, U.S. Forest Service, or other local organizations.

This pilot project provides on-the-job training at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park in basic wildland fire, chainsaw use in the wilderness, basic first aid and CPR, GPS training, plant identification, and traditional ecological knowledge. In addition to State Park’s leadership, other Conservancy partners assisted in project implementation, including the Kumeyaay Diegueño Land Conservancy, Cleveland National Forest, Resource Conservation District of Greater San Diego County, local Tribal Elders, and San Diego Canyonlands. After participants complete training, some individuals will return to their tribal communities to work, and others have received opportunities to work on fuel crews for State Parks and neighboring tribes.