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Day 3 Recap | Wildfire: Weather, Water, Weeds, Wildlife

Over the course of three days, Council for Watershed Health hosted 40 speakers, 9 poster presenters and hundreds of attendees for nearly 12 hours of wildfire-focused presentations and discussions. Presenters are experts in their fields and provided succinct overviews on a wide range of topics, drawing nearly100 questions from attendees. Video recordings, tools and resources, and a record of the audience Q&A are linked throughout this blog. For our final proceeding, this blog provides a summary of the Symposium’s virtual presentations and discussions. Thank you again to all who made our Wildfire: Weather | Water | Weeds | Wildlife Symposium a success! And a special thank you to UCANR’s Sabrina Drill for her tremendous support.


DAY 3 SUMMARY | October 14, 2021 | 2PM-5:30PM

“When you’re looking at an issue like fire prevention or forest health but you’re not thinking about ecological restoration at the same time it’s an incomplete process […] so integration is really what’s going to make this work." - State Senator Henry Stern

On the final day of the Symposium, speakers represented key players coordinating for wildfire resilience in Southern California. Perspectives included utilities, natural resource managers, fire departments, and those working on prevention and preparing communities living with fire. Some common messages throughout the day were the real necessity for collaborative partnerships and watershed-level planning as well as the importance of structure hardening and community education. Based on the day’s discussions, managing wildfire risk is two-fold between managing wildlands and implementing best practices in communities.

As fire conditions worsen under climate change, creative and proactive management in our mountains and forests are essential. On Day 3, various management and ignition prevention strategies were shared including the use of drones to detect heat and fire in parklands. We also learned that employing prescribed fire as a tool, while essential, is also a complex decision and is increasingly limited due to air quality concerns and dry conditions. In turn, a lot of vegetation management work in the Angeles Forest is done through mechanized treatment. The concept of shared stewardship has also been key for managing large expanses in the Angeles Forest.

Implementing best practices in the wildland urban interface (WUI) comes with its own challenges and can also be about combatting misconceptions. Where wildlands meet human settlements in the WUI, it is critical to equip communities with the proper resources and information, ideally in multiple languages. Such resources should ensure that communities know what the issues are, understand their place in the landscape, including their vulnerabilities, and can explain what stakeholders are trying to do and why. A few misconceptions mentioned are that vegetation management means completely clearing the landscape, even in open space. In reality, homeowners should focus on strategies from the inside-out. Therefore a key message for communities would be how to balance the protection of their home with environmental conservation (which is answered in the Panel 1 discussion). Important tools for communities to use are site evaluations, green-building concepts and grants given to Fire Safe Councils. As mentioned in the Panel 1 discussion, insurance companies could play an interesting role incentivizing home wildfire protection but that is yet to be realized.

Presentation Recaps

On Day 3, attendees were welcomed by a recording of Supervisor Hilda Solis as we celebrated the careers of J. Lopez and Marti Witter who contributed so much to wildfire resilience in our region. They were both invited to share a few words before State Senator Henry Stern set us up to transition into panel presentations and discussions.

Moderated by Clark Stevens, the Executive Officer for the Resources Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains, our first panel of the day included David Haas, Rorie Skei, Ron Durbin, Dania Gutierrez, Jerry Perez and Van Butsic. David Haas, Forester for CalFire, gave an overview of the agency’s role in fire suppression, defensible space inspections and wildland protection. Haas also shared information on CalFire grants for fire prevention and urban and community forestry. As Chief Deputy Director for the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (SMMC), Rorie Skei shared how the SMMC and the Mountains Recreation Conservation Authority are leading local efforts to improve regional capacity to prioritize, develop and implement projects to improve fire resiliency. Some of their activities include habitat restoration, creative ignition prevention tactics, workforce development, structure hardening, technology and equipment upgrades, and public education. Ron Durbin, Chief of the Forestry Division for the Los Angeles County Fire Department, presented on the Department’s processes and collaborative efforts to help the community of the Santa Monica Mountains understand their place in the landscape and best practices to protect themselves. One effort shared in this presentation was the Malibu fire-hardened demonstration structure which models materials and best practices for structure hardening. It will soon be expanded to include a vegetation demonstration. Dania Gutierrez presented on the unique position and activities of the National Forest Foundation assisting the US Forest Service in project management, fundraising, coordination and strategy development. Some projects shared by Gutierrez included community wildfire protection, forest restoration after fire, and future fuels reduction and infected tree removal in local forests. Jerry Perez, Forest Supervisor for the Angeles National Forest, presented figures about climate change effects on fire frequency and intensity in both California and the Angeles National Forest. Perez goes on to share the implications of this fire activity and the need for resource protection, management and firefighter safety. Van Butsic, Land Use Specialist at University of California Berkeley, covered how we can plan for fires in the wildland urban interface (WUI) and what the trends have been in the past. Butsic tells us that within 5-10 years after a fire, the majority of homes are rebuilt. With each passing year, additional structures pop up, resulting in more structures than before the fire. Butsic identifies this rebuild phase as an opportunity to engage in risk reduction through strategic planning and structure hardening.

The second panel included Rachel Lupo, David W. Pederson, Ben Stapleton, Antoine Kunsch, Sabrina Drill and Fabian Garcia and was moderated by Michele Romolini, the Managing Director of Loyola Marymount’s Center for Urban Resilience. Rachel Lupo, Senior Manager for Southern California Edison’s Wildfire Program, presented on the actions that SCE has taken to manage wildfire in their service area including installation upgrades and protocols and expanded outreach and resources for communities, especially during outages. David Pederson, General Manager for Las Virgenes Municipal Water District, shared lessons learned from the Woolsey fire which impacted many parts of the service area. Through Pederson’s presentation, many important tips are provided for creating more resilient water systems. Ben Stapleton, Executive Director for the U.S. Green Building Council’s Los Angeles Chapter, gave an overview of the Chapter’s activities such as training, conferences and consultations which have equipped local communities with wildfire expertise, resources and momentum for firewise green-building. Antoine Kunsch, the Community Resilience Coordinator at the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains, has performed site evaluations around the District and emphasized the importance of identifying structure and site vulnerabilities to wildfire and shared common issues he encounters. Sabrina Drill, UCANR Natural Resources Advisor for Los Angeles and Ventura Counties, introduced UCANR’s projects and approach to integrate fire into community life through preparation, during the incident and in the recovery phase to foster community resilience. Fabian Garcia, Partnership Coordinator at the USDA Forest Service’s Angeles National Forest and San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, shared the Forest Service’s philosophy of shared stewardship and its necessity to manage large expanses of land at-scale, across boundaries and to address partner’s mutual priorities.

Day 3 Resources


Our sponsor levels are named after wildflowers that grow abundantly following a fire!


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