Demystifying Fuel Management on The Santa Lucia Preserve

No doubt, there is a learning curve to the rural lifestyle of The Preserve. This conservation experiment has many mechanisms built in to foster deeper appreciation and thoughtful care of the land. Fuel Management is one of the more bewildering topics, for many reasons. First, no one would deny that wildfire is scary; it is powerful and destructive, but with good guidance and preparation, you can take steps to prepare your home for wildfire. Second, despite the era of big data, insurance companies continue to use crude methodologies to identify risks in different firescapes, rather than identifying specific risks at a single property. Third, fuel management itself is a bit confusing with lots of terminology and prescriptions. Let’s demystify fuel management, explore what it is, why we do it, and how members of The Preserve can stay up to date with lot-specific fuel management plans.

Fuel Management, or the management of defensible space around your home, is guided by wildland fire behavior experts and Conservancy staff. We follow best management practices to protect the natural values of your property and The Preserve, and treat vegetation from the structure out and the ground up. Each plan incorporates the unique conditions on your property, including the home and landscape design, topography of your land, the type of vegetation, microclimate, and prevailing wind direction to assess fire risk. The plan includes a property description, a narrative of fire hazard risk and fire behavior scenarios, pre-treatment and post-treatment flame length maps, and a map of the “fuel management prescriptions”— the specific ways to treat the vegetation type. Present the plan to your insurance carrier to provide specific documentation and assessment of wildfire conditions around your property to demonstrate how your management contributes to structural defense. The treatments authorized in an FMP often go beyond  the 100-foot state requirement for defensible space, on average treating up to 150-200 feet from the home depending on the habitat type. Most of the treatment footprint occurs in the Openlands (the part of your lot with a conservation easement on it) and requires working with the Conservancy to ensure these intensive land management practices protect both the home and our natural resources.

If you have, or intend to build, a home on The Preserve, you must have a fuel management plan. If you do not have a fuel management plan, you may still manage vegetation within the Homeland and along the driveway (out to 15 feet from the edge of the pavement) to reduce wildland fuels without Conservancy approval.

Mowing, both grasslands and understory, should ideally occur once a year, while other vegetation management such as pruning trees and thinning scrub habitats may take place every 2-5 years to effectively reduce fuels. Although the majority of the treatment footprint is in the Openlands, fire-proofing your landscaping around the home is  most critical to reduce risk of a structure fire. Fuel reduction around the home may include:

  • Reducing plant density
  • Removing mulch directly around the house
  • Creating a non-combustible zone, i.e. removing flammable vegetation from beside the home
  • Removing woody plants
  • Moving or storing fire wood away from structures
  • Pruning tree branches to create space between the branch and the home

The steps to managing landscaping may be iterative, and that is okay. As you start to adopt the concepts of creating horizontal and vertical separation between plant material, you will start to gain the fire safety lens. It may be a hard decision to remove a beloved feature of your landscaping, like a climbing rose bush or a tree that has matured and now has limbs that embrace rooflines. The Conservancy staff are happy to make a site visit and help you learn to identify fire safe fuel management on your property. Please, give us a call!

By: Lindsay Cope