A grant-funded project for $83,300 awarded to the Rancho Santa Fe Association to help minimize fire hazards in the Arroyo Preserve has officially begun. Endowed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the grant allows for the removal of flammable invasive species in the preserve.
It’s a three-year project awarded in August 2018 with the grant processes lasting about a year. The Arroyo Preserve is 68 acres running alongside the San Dieguito River.
According to the Caitlin Kreutz, the Association’s Parks and Recreation Department assistant manager and staff horticulturist, this grant may open the door to future ones.
The work has already begun. The first year will concentrate on the removal of eucalyptus and tamarisk.
“In subsequent years, we’re getting out the other invasive species such as pampas grass, Arundo and various other invasive species,” Kreutz said. “The whole reason we’re doing this is for fire safety.”
Kreutz noted how the Witch Creek fire in 2007 and the Bernardo fire in 2014 came down through the River Valley Corridor straight through the heart of Rancho Santa Fe.
The removal of invasive species means less fire fuel.
“The eucalyptus (trees) have a very flammable oil in them,” she said. “They’re from Australia where wildfires are common, so they don’t die during the fire — they stay standing. These trees go up in flames and causes what’s called a ladder fuel effect.”
Embers from this “fuel effect” cause other vegetation to catch on fire.
And Arundo, despite how green it looks, is also a fire risk.
Kreutz is quick to point out that not only are these invasive species incredibly flammable but they are taking away resources from native vegetation.
A portion of the grant money will go toward revegetation, which will be a focus in year three.
“About half of the grant money is going towards revegetation,” she said. “We’re already starting to take cuttings of native plants like little oak seedlings in our nursery.”
Once the invasive vegetation is out, the new, young plants such as willow trees, sycamore trees, cottonwoods and other indigenous shrubs will be planted.
Kreutz said this project isn’t year-round. Work dates are in non-bird nesting season, which starts on Sept. 1 and ends on March 15.
There’s a small window of time in addition to any winter weather challenges.
Kreutz shared that the Arroyo Preserve project is a component of other efforts happening within the entire River Valley. She called it a partner collaboration between the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy, US Fish & Wildlife, California Native Plant Society, and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.
While reducing fire risk is the main reason for this grant, Kreutz said a beautification process will also take place. Currently, many of the eucalypti have been attacked by the lerp psyllid, so the trees look unhealthy. Also, sensitive plant and animal specials that call the Arroyo Preserve home will have a better habitat when the project is completed.
“Covenant residents can also enjoy the park-like area,” she said.
Kreutz also commended the Park and Recreations Department’s administrative assistant, Samantha Kramer, for all her help in the grant process.
“Sam just graduated from Cal State San Marcos in environmental studies, so she’s a perfect fit — she’s just been great,” Kreutz said.
Kramer said she is looking forward to the Arroyo Preserve Project.
“I’m excited to restore it to its natural habitat and reduce the risk of fires coming through this area,” Kramer said.