Improving Wildfire Resilience

Some time next month, an MD 500 helicopter, crewed by a conservation science team will be flyi
By Deanne DiPietro      November 26, 2021

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Improving Wildfire Resilience
credit In December this MD 500 helicopter and crew will be surveying areas for fire-spreading invasive plants in the Santa Monica Mountains.
Like the deadly 2018 Woolsey Fire, wildfires have increased in frequency and intensity in recent years due to a combination of human and climate factors. Improving wildfire resilience has become an urgent matter for communities across California. The Santa Monica Mountains Woolsey Fire Recovery and Adaptation Program is a collaborative multi-agency effort working to reduce the risk of loss of life, property, and natural resources from future wildfires in the Santa Monica Mountains region. Funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and managed by Conservation Biology Institute, the project is working with local agencies to conduct community education to increase wildfire preparedness while taking steps to reduce the likelihood and severity of wildland fire. One important aspect of reducing the risks of catastrophic wildfire is fuels management. Fires like the Woolsey Fire can replace native vegetation with fast-growing invasive weeds that produce fine, dry fuels that easily ignite and help fires spread rapidly. To tackle this problem, a coalition of open space land managers from California State Parks, the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA), and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (SMMC) are mapping 46 target species known to be invading Santa Monica Mountains public lands. These maps will enable the agencies to prioritize their invasive species control efforts to protect native habitat while increasing public safety. To map such a large and rugged area safely and effectively the program has enlisted Morgan Ball and Katrina Olthof of Wildlands Conservation Science, a team that specializes in identifying and mapping plant species from the air, to survey the region in their blue MD 500 helicopter (the same model of helicopter flown by Jay Hernandez in the TV series, Magnum PI). Ball and Olthof are Santa Monica Mountains natives and environmental scientists with extensive backgrounds in bird and plant ecology. The flight team takes care to fly the helicopter in a winding pattern so as not to spend more than a short time in any single location and to minimize down-drafts on vegetation that could disturb wildlife and kick up dust, producing only a mild gust of wind as it passes through an area as they scan for their target species. The Santa Monica Mountains weed mapping surveys are being conducted in 2021 and 2022; the summer tour was completed in June, and in December the crew will fly Topanga Canyon and other nearby creek canyons looking for Arundo donax, also known as giant reed, a large, fast-growing plant that chokes streams and riparian habitat that can be seen best when leaves are off the trees. Watch for the small blue aircraft as it carries out its important mission to keep your neighborhood safe from wildfire! Community outreach and education efforts under the Santa Monica Mountains Woolsey Fire Recovery and Adaptation Program are being implemented by the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains (RCDSMM). For more information about this project, please visit the program’s webpage at https://consbio.org/products/projects/santa-monica-mtns-fire-resilience.
Map of the area (in pink) being surveyed by helicopter may be viewed dynamically on databasin.org.
      November 26, 2021

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November 26, 2021

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