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California launches new map to track fire prevention, forest health projects

California launches new map to track fire prevention, forest health projects

 

Fidel Tupul, left, uses a chainsaw to cut dead branches in the Mt. Tamalpais watershed near Sky Oaks Road in Fairfax on Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023. He was on a crew contracted by the Marin Wildfire Prevention Authority to reduce fire fuels near residences.(Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal) 

A task force commissioned by Gov. Gavin Newsom has unveiled a new online tool that it says will provide a first-of-its-kind map showing all forest and fire prevention work completed in California.

Following the destructive wildfires experienced across the state this past decade, a multitude of agencies has ramped up fire prevention projects on public lands and forests in an effort to prevent future disasters.

Until now, state officials said there has not been a simple way to track the collective work that has been accomplished thus far.

Patrick Wright, director of Newsom’s California Wildfire and Forest Resilience Task Force, said giving these agencies and communities a better understanding of work that has taken place so far can help them coordinate projects that cover larger areas compared to individual projects.

The dashboard and map are currently in a beta version with plans to add more data and release the final version in spring 2024. Users are able to click on individual points on the map to see how many acres were treated, who performed the work, when a project was completed and the type of treatments that were performed, whether it be prescribed fire and hand tools.

Wright said that one of the purposes of this online tool is to help foster multiagency partnerships, such as Marin County’s One Tam collaborative, to lead fire prevention and environmental work throughout the state. One Tam is a collaboration of the National Park Service, California State Parks, the Marin Municipal Water District, Marin County Parks and Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy to coordinate projects to protect lands on and surrounding Mount Tamalpais.

“The significance of the tracking system is it will facilitate more large landscape collaborative efforts like One Tam,” Wright said. “You will have the data now on what everyone is doing. So instead of having in Marin County a local fire district submit a grant, the county submit a grant and so on, you can submit a big grant by multiple agencies to transition from project-by-project work to landscape-level work.”

The Marin Wildfire Prevention Authority is one of the local agencies that administers property tax funds for fire prevention projects in Marin. The authority’s executive officer, Mark Brown, said a benefit of this new state map is it can help show the state where the need is for further grant funding.

“Being able to share data across the state is valuable so that we can all understand what we’re doing and how it connects with each other,” Brown said.

One of the challenges in the state’s effort is that many agencies, especially local agencies, do not have the bandwidth to create geographical information system data, known as GIS. The fire authority recently signed a contract with the Green Info Network to begin collecting this GIS data of fire prevention work in Marin, which can be exported to the state’s tracker.

Danny Franco, senior project manager with the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy nonprofit organization, said One Tam has already been working to create regional-level data on public lands on and surrounding Mount Tamalpais. The result is a new report released in August detailing the health of 118,000 acres of forestland and $20 million worth of recommended projects to restore forest health and prevent fires.

“The dashboard that the task force has developed is very much in line with the types of tools we’ve been developing regionally to support cross-jurisdictional and landscape-level projects,” Franco said.

Wright said the state is aiming to make quarterly updates to the map and issue annual reports on the work that takes place.

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While the state map currently only displays completed projects, Wright said the intention is to expand available metrics and information in future years. These include the fire conditions on each parcel of land in the state, protected species, planned projects and an overall monitoring system for future projects, among others.

“Ultimately, the goal is healthy forests and safe communities,” Wright said.

The Climate and Wildfire Institute provided $400,000 to develop the new tool, which was created by the Spatial Informatics Group. Data updates and maintenance of the dashboard are estimated to cost about $10,000 per month through March 2027, or about $378,000 in total, which will be funded by Cal Fire grants, according to task force spokesperson Sky Biblin.

The state dashboard can be found online at https://bit.ly/3svA7iq