Conservation Update, 2017 May | Trabuco “Fuels Management”, Saddle Crest, Esperanza, Orange Citizens, Banning Ranch, Madrona

From the Desk of Celia Kutcher, Conservation Chair


SANTA ANA MTSThe Trabuco District, Cleveland National Forest, (which encompasses our backyard Santa Ana Mts.) has issued a draft Environmental Assessment (EA) for the proposed South Main Divide and Greater El Cariso Fuels Management Project. The project calls for doing brush clearing (aka “fuel management”) on a total of 855 acres, in several sites along South and North Main Divide Rds. and Long Canyon Rd., extending from the intersection of Long Canyon and North Main Divide Rds. in the north to the La Cresta community in the south. The EA is at pains to point out that the entire fuel management area is about 0.06% of the total District acreage. Maps and details: and click on TRD_SMDGEC_FuelsManagement_DraftEA_03232017.

The project:

  • Is a continuation of 3 decades of fuel management projects in the area. The District is obliged to act to protect the communities and infrastructure in the area. There is a long discussion of the fire effects and fire behavior that would be expected in the project area.
  • Promises to be extra careful around the rare plants around Elsinore Peak. There is a long discussion of most of these rare species.
  • Will use a suite of techniques to remove the “excess/unwanted vegetation” [sic]: cutting, crushing, mastication, herbicide. The resulting trimmings will mostly be stacked for eventual burning.
  • Contains a long discussion of use of herbicide and the precautions, and Best Management Practices that will be used with it.
  • Also includes long discussion of invasive non–‐natives in the project area and how their removal will be part of the project, and Best Management Practices to keep them from spreading.

Deadline for public comments was April 22.

OCCNPS sent a 6–‐page comment letter; our main points:

  • Cutting the native vegetation back from road edges and property lines opens the cleared areas to invasion by fast–‐ germinating, fast–‐growing annual non–‐natives, which quickly dry to form strips of flashy fuels threading throughout the District. This would seem to be contrary to the fuels–‐reduction purpose of a fuels management project.
  • It’s not clear where the burn treatments called for will take place or what will be done with the burned remains. In a natural fire regime, the burning takes place in situ and the remains’ constituent atoms are in place, returned to the environment for re–‐use. If the slash piles are burned offsite, all the nutrients that the living plants took from the soil go with them and will not be there to contribute to the future vigor of that site. Burning slash offsite also short–‐circuits the fire–‐related stimuli that would trigger growth in the site’s native seed bank, geophytes, and burls. Masticating the slash and spreading it where the vegetation was removed would leave the constituent atoms onsite, but the fire–‐related stimuli would still be short–‐circuited.
  • OCCNPS opposes the proposed new fuel break that would run roughly from Morrell Potrero, across the top of Elsinore Peak, to the junction of S. Main Divide Rd. and Wildomar Truck Trail. Recent research has shown that, in general, fuel breaks are important in controlling large fires ONLY when they facilitate fire management, primarily by providing access for firefighting activities. Fuel breaks by themselves, especially if remote from roads, do not stop or even slow down fires, especially if wind–‐driven. This suggests that the proposed new fuel break, which would be mostly isolated from roads, is likely to be ineffective at controlling fires, thus be a waste of time, effort and taxpayers’ money. It would open a strip, up to 300 ft. wide, to invasion by non–‐ native weeds that would turn into a strip of flashy fuels across the middle of chaparral and oak woodland, and require regular maintenance at more taxpayers’ expense.

LITIGATION:  During the past few years, we have been the originating chapter for CNPS’ participation in one or another of 5 lawsuits.

  1. Saddle Crest Sadly, in 2015 the Appeals Court decided in favor of the developer.  Development has recently begun on the site.  On 3/28/2017, OCCNPS signed–‐on to a letter to Third District Supervisor Todd Spitzer, authored by the Specific Plans Coalition.  The letter asks Spitzer to reverse the General Plan and FTSP amendments put in place by the 2015 Saddle Crest decision, so that no more “Saddle Crest” –‐type development can be done in the canyons.  The Coalition is asking residents of the Third District to give Supervisor Spitzer, at, the same message.  Supervisor Spitzer was not responsible for approving Saddle Crest, but he needs to act to stop other developments like it.  He has the power to protect our canyons.  Contact for a sample letter, see for background.
  2. Esperanza Hills This proposed huge development abutting Chino Hills State Park was denied in Superior Court.  The decision required the OC Board of Supervisors to rescind all project approvals and the environmental documents, due to its many problems, especially access and density.
  3. Orange Citizens: Won in a unanimous decision at the State Supreme Court in Dec. 2016.
  4. Banning Ranch: In a unanimous decision, the State Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the proposed Banning Ranch development project, approved by the City of Newport Beach in 2012, did not adequately address Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Areas (ESHA) on the site. This means that any future developer will have to prepare a whole new EIR, which will have to adequately address ESHA.
  5. Madrona: The project, approved by the City of Brea in June 2014, was overturned in Superior Court on 11/3/15. An Appeals Court decision is expected in summer 2017. Hills for Everyone is building a litigation fund for this appeal, contact  to donate.


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