This informational memo for the Community Services District board is to help provide an overview of the current debate over "hack and squirt" on Mendocino Redwood Company (MRC) forestlands and its relationship to the Anderson Valley Fire Department. There are several MRC timber harvest plans proposed in surrounding areas primarily affecting the fire districts of Comptche and Albion. I know of one proposed THP that is within our district boundaries which could have an influence on the Nash Mill subdivision.
Although the concerns at hand are to prevent these new plans from being implemented, multiple locations throughout Anderson Valley have been treated by "hack and squirt" over the years and should be considered when understanding the current situation. The majority of MRC lands are out of our district and lie entirely within the State Responsibility Area (SRA) which means the responsibility for fire prevention and the forestry oversight process is managed through Calfire.
"Hack & Squirt" is the common name that is used to describe the application of herbicide to unwanted hardwood timber (primarily tanoak) on MRC lands. The intention of the herbicide treatment is to reduce competition from the quick growing hardwood trees and encourage growth of a harvestable timber crop and simultaneously attempt to restore a manageable and original state of the forest. Hack & Squirt is applied by notching the unwanted tree with a hatchet in multiple locations around the grid to create an opening of the cambium layer with a spray bottle application of the herbicide imazapyr. The herbicide quickly kills the tree and leaves it as freestanding dead timber for a couple of years until it snaps and falls to the floor floor where it completely decomposes after an average of 8-10 years.
The forestry practice has created multipoint controversy over how MRC can remove unwanted trees on their lands. Some expressed concerns about this forestry practice are:
- Disrupting views of the natural hillside throughout Mendocino County with dead trees.
- Chemical application of imazapyr exposes and likely impacts the surrounding environment.
- Large corporation forestry practices are using the cheapest methods possible for higher profits without concern for the environment.
- Increases fire risk due to dry or more receptive fuel and an increase in fuel loading.
- Imazapyr presents a risk to firefighters from being exposed to the chemical while breathing wildfire smoke generated by treated wood.
The two latter concerns are clearly fire service issues as they are directly related to wildland firefighting. With this in mind I decided to research the express concerns and how they may affect our firefighters, our district population and Anderson Valley. This included an airplane flight over the affected areas of the district, multiple Hack & Squirt site tours with both Calfire foresters and MRC forester, online research and local input.
Apparently the claim that imazapyr in wildfires creates a respiratory hazard to wildland firefighters and that suppression tactics must require the use of a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) were not as presented. My quick online search resulted in the SCBA requirements only being applicable in the instance of a concentrated storage of the herbicide burning. The National Library of Medicine Toxicology Data Network states: "A study conducted in Georgia measuring the breathing zone concentrations of smoke suspended particulate matter, herbicide residues, and carbon monoxide found that no herbicide residues, including imazapyr, were detected in the 140 smoke samples from the 14 fires. Sites had been treated with labeled rates of forestroy herbicides including imazapyr and were burned within 30-149 days post application."
Anderson Valley Fire Department should and will continue to be cautious in the presence of treated Hack & Squirt areas and continue to monitor for new studies to ensure firefighter safety.
The second concern of "fire fuel loading" is accurate for a several year window. The dry dead trees undoubtedly create a more receptive fuel load and will create a faster moving and more intense fire. The decay process that I observed during my site visits revealed that the tanoak leaves would fall off in the trees in one year, next the upper portion of the dead trees would snap off in approximately three years creating a lower lying fuel bed but still extremely dry and densely configured, and last it turned into a spongy wood composition that slowly decayed into the forest floor within a couple more years.
The treatment process allows a window of exposure which I believe is high fire risk and within MRC property lines and an unnecessary risk if it directly impacts adjacent properties. The Hack & Squirt area that I visited was on the interior portions of the MRC property and mostly outside of Anderson Valley CSD boundaries. The THP areas that immediately pressed against the Nash Mill and Holmes Ranch subdivisions were not treated with herbicide but instead the hardwood was being removed by a local firewood company. I was told that this was intentional to avoid imposing a potential hazard to that subdivision area. My aerial observations found that Cliff Ridge had also been treated but stopped one drainage/aspect away from the MRC property lines.
MRC has provided our fire department with the MRC fire suppression plan, maps and all gate combinations for accessing MRC property. They are also working with us and Calfire on a prospective fuel breaks project to protect forestland from private land. More information for field use such as maps of treated areas and their associated treatment dates to avoid firefighter exposure or entering into areas that have an increased fire potential would be helpful in our overall firefighting efforts and safety.
In conclusion of my overview, MRC Hack & Squirt forestry practice creates a clear increase in fire fuel loading for a several year window which then quickly starts to decay in the hopes that a more manageable forest will grow in its place. These current THPs are inside MRC private property where they risk losing their own timber harvest and would encourage large fiscal impacts if wildfires moved through. In Anderson Valley's impacted areas, MRC seems to be trying to avoid the unnecessary exposure of its neighbors from wildfire and also protect themselves from fire originating from the urban setting moving toward forestlands. In the delicate balance of both MRC private property rights and the imposition of fire fuel loading which could quickly impact adjacent neighbors, I believe it is the duty of MRC to be proactively working on increasing safety measures with both local fire departments and local neighbors to reduce risk and improve safety as a result of their practices.
I will attend a Board of Supervisors meeting this month on the subject and will be monitoring the evolution of the topic to add information as needed. Additionally, both the coastal [Calfire] battalion chief and our new [Calfire] battalion chief will be joining me on a tour of the Anderson Valley response area to go over subdivisions and their associated risks from wildlife fire.
Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or concerns.
Andres Avila, Anderson Valley Fire Chief, 895-2020.