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East Bay district gets $13.5M from state to prevent fires – The Mercury News

In a measure that’s timely to say the least, the East Bay Regional Park District has received a direct appropriation of $13.5 million in the California budget to fund wildfire prevention and fuel reduction needs in the East Bay hills.

The appropriation was proposed by state Sens. Nancy Skinner, of Berkeley, and Bob Wieckowski, of Fremont, and Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, of Orinda. $10 million will be used to remove dead and dying trees, a concerning development that has been detected especially in Anthony Chabot and Reinhardt Redwood regional parks in Oakland, Miller-Knox Regional Shoreline in Richmond and Tilden Regional Park near Berkeley. The remaining $3.5 million will be used to buy equipment to improve the district’s ability to fight fires, including the replacement of the district’s aging helicopter, which is used to drop water on fires burning in inaccessible terrain.

“We are so thankful for the support and leadership of our legislators in the East Bay, especially Senators Skinner and Wieckowski and Assemblywoman Bauer-Kahan, for recognizing the severity of the sudden tree die-off issue and providing funding to address it,” said park district board President Dee Rosario.

First noticed in the East Bay in October 2020, sudden tree die-off is affecting many varieties of trees throughout California, including eucalyptus, acacia, bay and pine. The estimated cost to remove the dead or dying trees in the district is $30 million based on current tree removal contracts.

“EBRPD has more than 1,500 acres of dead or dying trees affected by drought and climate change conditions that need immediate attention,” said EBRPD fire Chief Aileen Theile. “These state funds couldn’t come at a better time, as we are shovel-ready.”

Firefighters say dead trees burn hotter, faster and are more likely to cast embers downwind, igniting potentially dangerous new fires. And many of the park areas experiencing die-off are old eucalyptus plantations with a very high tree density. Wildfire protection is a year-round effort for the park district.

Ongoing projects include regular fuels reduction, professionally trained full-time and on-call wildland firefighters and remote automated weather stations that help monitor wildfire risks so that fire staff and resources can be deployed efficiently. In the past 10 years, EBRPD has invested $20.5 million in its fuel reduction efforts to keep the East Bay hills safer from wildfire threats.

Oakley: There’s a lot going on at regional park district visitor centers the weekend of July 31 and Aug. 1. For example, swimming salmon cycles is the program theme July 31 at Big Break Regional Shoreline in Oakley. It’s all about the salmon life cycle and why the Delta is so important for salmon survival. The Big Break naturalists also will set up interactive stream tables to show how water moves through California from the Sierra to the sea. The program is geared for children ages 2 and older and their caregivers, but all ages are welcome.

Various COVID-19 safety protocols are in effect. Each visitor older than 2 must wear a face mask during the program. A minimum distance of 6 feet from those outside your household is required, and up to six people from one household are allowed per group. All group members must arrive together. Participants younger than 18 must have a chaperone. Thirty-minute programs start at 10 a.m., 11 a.m., and noon. The program is free, but registration is required. To register ahead, call 888-327-2757, option 2. Same-day registration on-site is also available, space permitting. For a full list of nature programs, visit the park district website at ebparks.org.

Ned MacKay writes about East Bay Regional Park District sites and activities. Email him at nedmackay@comcast.net.


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