Project Description for the FSCR Summit Road/Highland Way Shaded Fuel Break
revised: February 27, 2022
The project will create a shaded fuel break along 5.6 miles of Summit Road and Highland Way between Highway 17 and Mt. Bache Road. This ridgetop road system is a primary evacuation route in Santa Cruz County and thus ranks very high in priority for this type of work by CAL FIRE and Santa Cruz County. The reduction of fuels along this prominent ridge will also improve the chances of stopping fires that burn out of the upper Los Gatos watershed. Fire history demonstrates numerous fires have originated in the Los Gatos and adjacent Uvas/Llagas watersheds and burned upslope toward the ridge on which this project is located. These fires include the Lexington, Croy, Summit and the two Loma incidents.
The Summit Road Corridor Shaded Fuel Break Project is a collaboration between the Resource Conservation District of Santa Cruz County (RCD), the Santa Cruz Mountain Alliance, a 501(c)(4) community-based organization whose purpose is to address the many needs of the residents of the Santa Cruz Mountains, CAL FIRE, the Fire Safe Council of Santa Cruz County, and participating landowners.
The Summit Road Corridor Shaded Fuel Break Project will:
- Create a shaded fuel break up to 100 feet off either side of the road, by removing densely populated vegetation, specifically:
- Remove most of the smaller trees (less than 8” diameter) and understory vegetation while retaining healthy large trees (8” diameter and greater).
- Remove trees larger than 8” diameter if they are dead, dying or are at high risk for falling onto the roadway during a wildfire, based on availability of funding.
- Prune the remaining vegetation to decrease available fuels that occupy the space between the forest floor and the lowest branches (i.e., ladder fuels). Trees/limbs will be pruned 15 feet over the road, to improve emergency vehicle access, and 10 feet off the road, to improve wildfire resilience.
- Where large trees are not present or there are large gaps in the tree canopies, small trees and/or shrubs will be retained, spaced about 15 feet apart.
- Most cut material will be chipped, and broadcast back onsite and uniformly spread over the project area.
- Work may be performed with hand crews, machinery, or a combination thereof.
By thinning and removing this vegetation, the goal is that a future wildfire would be expected to burn with less intensity, with a slower rate of spread and would have a decreased potential for fire to climb into treetops – making fire suppression easier and evacuation during a wildfire safer. This treatment will also mimic the historic conditions of this region, retain habitat, and improve the forest ecosystem functions.
Logs within 50 feet of rivers, creeks or streams cannot be removed due to environmental regulations.
Portions of this 100-foot zone along the roadside will not receive any work where the project interfaces with the maintained yards of residents. This generally occurs within the 100 foot “Defensible Space” residents have the legal responsibility to create around their residence.
This project will be implemented in phases, at no cost to the landowner(s). Participation in the project is voluntary, and our goal is to get 100 percent participation. As forests are alive and vegetation regrows, collaborating landowners are expected to take part in helping to maintain the benefits of the shaded fuel break through activities such as:
- Removal of basal sprouts, (small sprouts growing from cut stumps)
- Reducing the ladder fuels, (preventing understory vegetation from growing and occupying the space between the forest floor and the lowest tree branches)
- Maintaining space between large vegetation, including trees (specifically ensuring that tree canopies are pruned back to keep from interlocking).
A site visit to assess fuels and downed trees will also be conducted. Once all required documents have been received, the landowner will be contacted and advised of their application status.
Summit Road-Highland Way Corridor Project
The Fire Safe County Roads (FSCR) project involves 138 property owners whose parcels have frontage on Summit Road & Highland Way, from Highway 17 to the Mt. Bache junction (as shown on the map above). The goal of the program is to create a shaded fuel break along this corridor to provide escape routes in case of a fire or other natural disaster, as well as providing access for emergency vehicles. Grants are available to cover the cost of this work, providing a high percentage of property owners agree to work with CAL FIRE and other agencies to reduce the fuel load adjacent to the road. The Santa Cruz Mountain Alliance and other volunteers are working with the 138 property owners to gather support for this critical program. Details of the FSCR project can be found in the Progress Reports.
Updates on Funding and on the Timeline
Working with the Resource Conservation District of Santa Cruz County (RCD), we were awarded a CAL FIRE grant of nearly $1.3M to accomplish this work. We believe these funds will allow for the treatment of most of the entire 5.6 miles of the Summit Road/Highland Way corridor, starting at the Mt. Bache/Highland Way intersection all the way to the junction with Highway 17. This work will be administered by the RCD. If necessary, we will seek additional funding. Detailed Fire Safe County Roads timeline 2020-2022.
Scope of Work
The level of funding will determine the scope of work, that is, how much fuel reduction work occurs on each property and whether the entire length of the proposed project can be included with the initial funding. Ideally, the work will include basic clearing for a shaded fuel break such as removing brush and thinning dense stands of trees, as well as removing hazard trees and low-hanging tree canopies over the county road.
The scope of work document when completed is the basis of the agreement and permission form that landowners are being asked to sign. Applicants must complete and sign a Right of Entry and Work Authorization permission form and waiver.
Links to information on Home Hardening, on Defensible Space, and Organizing your Neighborhood into a FireWise Council
Resource Conservation District of Santa Cruz County Chipping Program
Santa Clara County Fire Safe Council
The County Road Resource was developed in 2017 to answer the question presented to our community, How do we prioritize the repair of our county roads? It shows the number of households and their locations on all of the county roads in the First district of Santa Cruz County. All traffic flows are to Summit Road or to San Jose- Soquel Road where the repairs are funded by a different process.
Click here to read the Summit Ridge Community Roads
The Soquel Demonstration State Forest Resource is an exploration of a special forest in our community. The report explores critical aspects of forest management as well as the ongoing work taking place.
Click here to read the Soquel Demonstration State Forest Report