At the September 5th Board meeting, the Board approved a $10K expenditure requested by staff member Caitlin Kreutz for an aerial fire risk survey of Rancho Santa Fe. While this first phase will only provide baseline information for the Association, future phases could impact all residents in a significant way.
This initial phase will identify stressed, dying, and dead trees, along with information about defensible space around each structure. Our fire department generally wants 100′ of maintained landscaping around buildings. This doesn’t mean landscaping is not allowed within 100′, but it does mean that the fire department wants properly irrigated and appropriate vegetation.
The intent is that information from this aerial survey will be kept confidential and used only for planning purposes to help develop policies.
Follow on Phases
Board members Dunn and Gallagher were very concerned about fire safety. Gallagher wondered if we shouldn’t be spending more money on a bigger project. Kreutz stated she wanted to have follow on phases, prompting Gallagher to ask for a five year plan and to see if we can hurry projects along. Dunn wondered aloud what should be done with members who don’t take care of a dead and dying forest on their property.
According to the Rancho Santa Fe Forest Health Study from January 2019, there are 42,000 dead or nearly dead trees in Rancho Santa Fe out of a total population of 266,000 trees. That’s almost one of out every six trees.
There was some talk about where this will lead, including possible enforcement. The Association’s relatively new fine schedule was mentioned. Either the Fire Department or the Association could take a more active role in enforcing, something? What the possible violations are were not mentioned (100′ defensible space? Dead trees? Sagebrush? Sick trees?).
It is worth noting that, as far as I know, Rancho has never had a wildfire run through it. Yes, homes along canyons have been burned to the ground, but the vast majority of Rancho homes are isolated from canyons. While interior fires during a Santa Anna wind are possible, an interior fire progressing to a wildfire hasn’t happened yet either. With SDG&E’s new aggressive policy on de-energizing power lines during high wind events, the likelihood of interior fires is lessened even more. The most likely risk for an interior fire during a wind event is probably an arsonist, and maybe that is better addressed by neighborhood vigilance during wind storms.
Update: On the other hand, read this response from a resident for an opposing view.
Red Gum Eucalyptus
The biggest problem we have with our forest health is the red gum eucalyptus, the dominant tree in Rancho. It is the variety most impacted by the lerp psyllid bug. This year, soon after our wet spring gave way to a hot summer, the vast majority of our red gums dropped their leaves due to the lerp, causing Rancho to look like a denuded east coast winter forest of bare branches. Just as bad, our landscaping and streets turned into a sticky mess due to the huge volume of dropped leaves.
Our red gums have since come roaring back, but it is just a matter of time before the cycle starts all over again.
One option is to replace your red gum eucalyptus trees (save “specimen” ones) and replace them tree varieties that are resistant to the lerp. From planting about a dozen of these trees about 5 years ago, I’ve found both the lemon scented Eucalyptus and the Red Ironbark Eucalyptus to be largely resistant to the lerp. Click here for a list of Association approved trees.
However, this is not an inexpensive project. So I can sympathize with homeowners who are looking askance at big projects like this.
It doesn’t look like this particular Board will rush into new policy decisions, notwithstanding the alarm I heard expressed at the Board meeting. They appear to favor a deliberative process to gather community input. If you have any thoughts about fire risk or our forests please reach out to the Board or Association, or discuss it here at the RSF Post.