Urbanizing Pressures on Forests in Coastal Counties and the Central Sierra Nevada

Notes for Richard Wilson’s Presentation to the California Board of Forestry

August 5, 1997

Bill Stewart, Chief
Fire and Resource Assessment Program
California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection
PO Box 944246, Sacramento, CA 94244
(916) 327-3939 FAX (916) 327-1180


A number of counties are demanding greater control over timber harvesting than they currently have under the Forest Practices Act. Recent court decisions give counties greater control over the right to harvest timber if the parcel is not in a Timberland Production Zone (TPZ). Most of the interest has come from Santa Cruz, San Mateo, and Sonoma. In addition to these counties, there are other areas of the state where similar demographic and political pressures may lead to similar interests. The following analysis compares characteristics of counties along the coast and in the Sierra Nevada where population pressure is large and growing.

Two different types of demographically driven concerns are those related to

  1. concerns over sedimentation, noise, and aesthetics from timber harvesting and
  2. concerns over fires spreading from wildlands into residential areas.

The next two tables summarize timberland (a tax status) and conifer (an ecologically defined status) acres, ownership, and population densities for 12 counties key counties. Forest policy issues in the 1990s have gone beyond the use of forests as timberlands and now include other views on the relative value of forests in terms of aesthetics, open space, stream buffers, fire risk, and wildlife habitats. Many of the disputes are often close to residential areas. The following table accompanies the three enclosed maps and illustrates how much private conifer forest is within three miles of residential development. The estimates of conifer land based on the ecological characteristics are close, but not identical, to the estimates of timberland produced by the USFS-PNW Forest Inventory Analysis (FIA). The GAP data base is based on ecological classification of vegetation types. It has the advantage of being a fully geographically based system that is completed for the whole state.

Total Timberland and Timberland Production Zone (TPZ) Acreage by Counties

County

Private timberland
(acres)

TPZ
(acres)

Percentage in TPZ

Industry as a percent of timberland

Farms as a percent of timberland

Small parcels as a percent of timberland

Coastal Region

Mendocino

1,076,000

860,000

80

55

9

36

Sonoma

289,000

78,000

27

24

20

57

Marin

19,000

0

0

0

32

68

San Mateo

55,000

32,000

58

0

13

85

Santa Cruz

155,000

63,000

40

14

19

66

Monterey

4,000

0

0

0

50

50

Sierra Region

Nevada

199,000

93,000

47

18

2

80

Placer

162,000

120,000

74

43

4

54

El Dorado

251,000

151,000

60

48

1

51

Amador

61,000

28,000

46

44

21

34

Calaveras

136,000

76,000

56

39

26

350

Tuolumne

117,000

84,000

72

56

14

30

Timberland acreage based on plots and statistical sampling by USFS-PNW.
TPZ acreage is a tax classification determined by county assessors.


GAP (Ecological) Conifers in and out of Urban Influence Areas

County

Population Density
per square mile

Percent of population
in incorporated cities

GAP conifer
total acres

GAP conifer urban influence acres

Percent of conifers in urban influence zone

Mendocino

24

31

1,046,671

72,036

6

Sonoma

266

63

307,406

76,054

24

Marin

460

72

20,378

8,806

43

San Mateo

1,536

91

47,774

12,454

26

Santa Cruz

542

44

103,945

61,121

58

Monterey

109

72

6,793

902

13

Nevada

90

27

204,709

71,948

35

Placer

145

55

144,895

42,459

29

El Dorado

84

22

283,070

71,632

25

Amador

55

42

85,794

31,377

36

Calaveras

36

8

158,056

29,956

18

Tuolumne

23

8

114,430

25,609

22


Central Sierra Nevada counties have lower but growing residential pressures and may experience similar constituency pressures in the future. On the other hand, the higher fire risks are promoting community fuel break proposals. Conflicting interests from communities to thin vegetation to reduce fire risk on the one hand and maintaining vegetation cover to address sedimentation, wildlife habitat, and aesthetic concerns may create new problems in specific areas.

Relative Rates of Fire Ignitions and Burned Acres

County

Ignitions per thousand square miles

Burned acres per square mile

Coastal Region

Mendocino

92

0.7

Sonoma

184

1.7

Marin

190

1.2

San Mateo

204

1.3

Santa Cruz

337

0.5

Monterey

98

3.6

Coastal Counties Region
(not including Monterey)

114

1.0

Sierra Region

Nevada

333

5.3

Placer

659

1.8

El Dorado

328

1.1

Amador

243

1.4

Calaveras

272

3.7

Tuolumne

378

3.5

Central Sierra Region

356

2.9


Based on ignitions and fires in DPA 1981-1993

The following 8-1/2 x 11 maps are pieces of a larger map and illustrate different patterns of private forests within three miles of a residential area and outside of an urban influence zone. They highlight three different areas of the state - Santa Cruz, Sonoma and southern Mendocino, and the Central Sierra counties. The blue lines are rivers and the red lines are major roads. All the green areas are private lands dominated by conifer forests. State lands, such as Jackson Demonstration State Forest in Central Mendocino and all federal forest areas, are not colored. The dark green represents private forests within three miles of significant residential areas. The light green represents private forests not near residential areas. Within every county there are certain pockets where private forest management will probably be of greater interest to local residents.


San Francisco Map

Sonoma Map

Sierra Map


The following graph comparing the percent of timberland with TPZ status and the percent of forests within urban spheres of influence highlights a few types of unique counties:

  1. Marin and Monterey have no land with TPZ status
  2. Santa Cruz is the only county with more than half of its forests in urban influence spheres
  3. Sonoma has two different sub-areas – the urban influence area near the Russian River and the rest of the county
  4. Mendocino has a low percentage, but high number of acres, of its forest within an urban sphere

Summary

While current forest practice rules are standard across large districts or at least counties, the ownership and fire data as well as the maps showing forests near urban spheres suggests that different patterns of social concern about forest management will occur within counties.


California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection
Fire and Resource Assessment Program(frap.cdf.ca.gov)

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