Reducing Wildfire Risk

Reducing Wildfire Risk

Our vision for fire and fuels management on The Preserve is one that harmoniously balances the protection of life, property, and biodiversity with long-term ecosystem resilience. Our proactive wildfire resilience strategy includes shaded fuel breaks, prescribed burns, conservation grazing, invasive plant removal, a Preserve-wide fuel management plan, and lot-specific fuel management plans for individual homeowners.

Fire Risk on The Preserve

The Preserve exists within the high fire hazard severity zone, and as the largest landowner on The Preserve, mitigating wildfire risk is a top priority at the Conservancy. Due to geography, weather patterns, and past fire behavior, this landscape functions as a wildfire buffer between the undeveloped lands of Big Sur to the south and wildland-urban interface (WUI) communities in Carmel Valley. The Palo Corona-White Rock Fuel Break is one of the largest and most important fuel breaks on the Central Coast and runs along this exact transition area. It was declared an emergency fuel break project in 2019 by Governor Newsom. Its importance was exemplified during the Soberanes Fire of 2016, when 5,000 emergency responders were staged on The Preserve to prevent the fire from advancing through the property into more densely populated areas. 

The Preserve’s Community Services District (CSD) and the Conservancy have maintained relationships with our local fire districts and CAL FIRE through prescribed burns, forest health and other fuel management plans, permits, and implementation. In 2021, The Santa Lucia Preserve received the Firewise Community Certification in recognition of The Preserve and Conservancy’s collective efforts to systematically institute robust fuel management plans, use fire-resistant building materials, place structures strategically, and landscape with ignition-resistant plants. Our long history of adapting to fire risks and taking measurable actions to increase community safety has earned us immense respect from our agency partners who see The Preserve as a model for how other communities living in the Wildland-Urban Interface can stay safe in fire-prone landscapes.

Shaded Fuel Breaks

A shaded fuel break is a strip of land where fuels such as living shrubs and brush, dead branches, excess leaf litter, and downed logs are removed from the understory to limit a wildfire’s ability to spread rapidly into the tree canopy. Creating shaded fuel breaks along roadsides helps ensure that members can safely evacuate and firefighters can access remote areas of The Preserve. 

In 2020, the Conservancy received a $2 million CAL FIRE grant to implement approximately 200 acres of shaded fuel breaks along every major road across The Preserve. In 2022, CAL FIRE awarded the Conservancy another $1.2 million to maintain 12 miles of the Palo Corona-White Rock Fuel Break, reestablish 8.67 miles of existing fuel breaks on The Preserve, and develop a plan to create critical access to the western section of the Palo Corona-White Rock Fuel Break.

Together, these grants support our objective to decrease the risk of catastrophic wildfire spreading from the Los Padres National Forest and Big Sur region into communities of The Santa Lucia Preserve, Carmel Highlands, and Carmel Valley which together include 5,281 residents and 2,885 housing units. 

Fuel Management Plans (FMPs)

The Santa Lucia Preserve Fuel Management Standards outline a Preserve-wide strategy for maintaining our commitments to protect our natural resources and community from the threat of wildfire. The Standards identify appropriate fuel management treatments for each habitat type on The Preserve. 

Landowners play a critical role in mitigating wildfire risk by implementing lot-specific fuel management plans (FMPs) on their property. Updated every five years, these robust plans are designed by qualified experts to go above and beyond state standards, taking into account natural vegetation and wildlife habitats, landscaping, topography, architecture and other unique features of each property. 

Mandated by the Santa Lucia Preserve CC&Rs, FMPs are a Preserve-wide, standardized requirement of every homeowner. The purpose of this plan is to guide the implementation of vegetation management to provide sufficient defensible space and fire safety around their home and structures (as required by California Public Resources Code 4291) while maintaining the natural and aesthetic values of The Preserve. FMPs are typically established during the Design Review Process and are tailored to the unique conditions of each property.

Learn more about lot-specific fuel management plans and contact the Santa Lucia Community Services District with questions about FMPs.

Prescribed Fire

California’s ecosystems have adapted to wildfire and many native plant communities depend on low-intensity fires burning at regular intervals in order to thrive. After a century of fire suppression, cultural and prescribed burning are finally being encouraged as necessary tools for restoration. In the absence of fire, fuels accumulate, habitats degrade, invasive plants spread, and the risk of catastrophic wildfire increases. 

The Conservancy has over a decade of prescribed fire experience. By strategically burning plots on The Preserve, we aim to restore fire-adapted species while reducing the threat of catastrophic wildfire. We conducted our first prescribed burn in 2009 on two small grasslands covering a total of 47 acres. Since then, we have conducted prescribed burns in San Francisquito Flats in 2010 and 2012, and around Moore’s Lake and Ohlone Pond in 2015, on the Animus and private landowner lots in 2021, and on the San Francisquito Flats and Dairy Field in 2022.

SLC sponsors staff to acquire Wildland Firefighter Type II certifications and assists with prescribed fires in the region through a close partnership with the Central Coast Prescribed Burn Association. 

Conservation Grazing

The Conservancy’s cutting-edge Conservation Grazing Program uses cattle to reduce thatch (dead organic material), manage brush and weeds, and improve conditions for a host of grassland plants and animals. This work not only improves the vibrance of our prairies and grasslands through nutrient cycling, it improves fire safety by reducing fuels on The Preserve’s Wildlands and grassland Openlands. 

Habitat Restoration

Our Habitat Restoration Program tackles invasive plants and encroaching brush to reduce fuels across The Preserve’s Wildlands. Many of the invasive plants that encroach here, such as French broom, are woody, dense, dry, and tend to proliferate in disturbed landscapes. Dense weed cover increases the risk of a wildfire burning hotter and spreading quickly into the canopy. In areas where our Restoration Program tackles aggressive invasive species, we create a more balanced environment that allows drought tolerant and fire resilient native plants to thrive.