Fire fuel burn

 The Northern Sonoma County Fire District fuel reduction crew conducts a controlled burn on Fitch Mountain on March 23. The fuel reduction work is being done in coordination with the city of Healdsburg and the Healdsburg Fire Department.

On Tuesday, March 23 the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors delegated a committee to facilitate the allocation of $2 million to $4 million in Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) settlement funds for near-term vegetation management projects with an emphasis on activities and projects in high risk areas and key ecosystems.

The committee — which consists of representatives from the Sonoma County Administrator’s Office, the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, UC Cooperative Extension and CalFire — was directed by the board to disburse the funds as soon as possible ahead of the next fire season.

The vegetation management funding represents a portion of the initial $25 million allocated by the board of supervisors in October 2020 from PG&E settlement funds for vegetation and fuels management to reduce wildfire risk and to support ecosystems and agriculture.

“It is critical that we take action today and get to work before we find ourselves in the thick of the 2021 fire season,” Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Chair Lynda Hopkins said in a statement. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Fire risk reduction is critical to ensuring the future viability of our local economy, our local housing stock, our local communities. We can’t wait.”

This week during their regular board meeting the board also allocated $600,000 for a three-year coordinator position to provide support to the county’s vegetation management efforts.

Additionally, the board allocated $500,000 in settlement funds to support a three to five-year regional workforce training program at the Santa Rosa Junior College. The training program will focus on vegetation management and wildfire mitigation.

According to a county press release, the board postponed for further evaluation a proposal to allocate $1.5 million to hire a California Environmental Quality Act consultant in order to develop a county-wide program Environmental Impact Report that would streamline future environmental reviews for vegetation management activities.

“The allocation of funds for shovel-ready vegetation management projects was one of the recommendations presented to the board by the Center for Law, Energy & the Environment at UC Berkeley School of Law, which organized and facilitated two group discussions to identify top priorities for the $25 million in PG&E settlement funds allocated for vegetation management activities. One group, composed of state-level experts, was held on Feb. 17, while the second, a convening of local experts and stakeholders, was held on Feb. 24,” the county press release states.

Litigation against PG&E following the 2017 Sonoma Complex Fires resulted in the county receiving $149.3 million in settlement funds.

Following community and stakeholder outreach, the board of supervisors voted in October to allocate a minimum of $25 million in settlement funds toward vegetation management work and activities.

In October the board allocated one-third of the funds, $8.3 million, for near term projects and education and outreach. The remaining two-thirds, $16.6 million, will be leveraged over 10 years with the goal of creating a lasting funding mechanism for vegetation management work.

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