Scientific work in Australia, says Lofft, suggests that eucalyptus groves retard fires. “According to scientists down under, the eucalyptus may actually reduce the risk — both by killing the flammable brush underneath them and by forming windbreaks as well as fire breaks which knock down burning brush embers airborne in 50-mile-per-hour winds.… The fear is that the fire department, while trying to eliminate as many eucalyptuses as they can to reduce fire danger, will…increase the real danger to the community and simultaneously destroy its character.…
“The final issue is one of finances,” Lofft continues, “and there is real risk that if the City resumes its current plan of cutting tens of thousands of mature trees in Scripps, it will run out of funds with the job only partly complete.… There are 117 sites planned for the same fate as ‘Ground Zero’ on Scripps Ranch Blvd. They would basically destroy some large part of the forest and leave the rest untouched — the worst of all worlds.”
Save Our Scripps Ranch Trees is an ad hoc group that may influence the City’s ultimate action. With the moratorium on tree removal still in effect, representatives met with fire chief Tracy Jarman on July 29 to discuss the group’s “position paper” on the brush-management program.
The position paper addresses discrepancies in the City’s environmental document on the brush-management program, saying the report did not “adequately disclose the environmental impact” of the program to FEMA. The environmental report’s discussion of neighborhood characteristics and aesthetics highlights the argument. For instance, the environmental report states that the plan “would serve to minimize any potential impacts to mature trees, and.… No mature trees will be removed with the proposed brush-management zones.…”
In the process of writing their paper, members of Save Our Scripps Ranch Trees discovered that the law firm of Seltzer Caplan McMahon Vitek had expressed concern about the aesthetic effects of the City’s brush-management plan. After the firm quibbled with some of the plan’s requirements, according to the position paper, the City “clarified their position by stating that ‘Current proposed brush-management regulations do not require removal of mature trees.’ ”
The position paper makes recommendations for negotiation with the City. It suggests a priority ranking of actions, “beginning with the removal of underbrush and ladder fuel [including lower tree limbs] first, followed by the removal of dead trees and severely diseased trees — both identified in advance with community concurrence — and canopy thinning/pruning.” Where there are no eucalyptus trees, “The City should thin and remove brush.” “Selective eucalyptus saplings should be retained to maintain the long-term health of the eucalyptus-forested areas.” And “selective areas of brush should be retained to prevent low-flying embers from undisrupted propagation, otherwise known as ‘a bowling alley effect.’ ”
Gordon Boerner and Bob Ilko, leaders of the Scripps Ranch Civic Association, tell me they are optimistic. At the July 29 meeting, they say, Chief Jarman listened intently. She promised to reconsider the brush-management plan for the Scripps Ranch forest and to announce any change of direction soon. But the City is still waiting for a legal opinion on its options from the city attorney’s office. Boerner writes me by email that unless the City acts quickly, any brush-management approach may be too late to reduce fire danger.