Cleaning the Butterflies’ House

Safeguarding Goleta’s Treasured Groves

Wildfire prevention and monarch butterfly habitat management go hand in hand. That was the idea fueling a workshop last week addressing both topics in tandem.

The eucalyptus groves where the monarch butterflies live during winter months are vulnerable to fire, explained fuels specialist David Kerr, who was a panelist at the City of Goleta’s February 23 event. He explained that the Ellwood Mesa, where the groves are located, has significant areas of fuel—including but not limited to the eucalyptus groves themselves.

Goleta is in the process of developing a plan “to enhance community wildfire protection by identifying fire hazard treatments which are sustainable,” Kerr said. In the meantime, the city is already implementing vegetation treatments to address the risk on Ellwood Mesa, Kerr said: hand-clearing shrubbery, making areas less dense by the process of thinning, and incorporating “biological agents,” namely goats, to eat everything on the ground in confined areas.

Major components of the proposed plan include a Wildfire Hazard Assessment, to pinpoint the appropriate locations to start prevention, as well as a more general Wildfire Risk Assessment. The City of Goleta stated that the benefit of an approved plan is access to federal and state grant funds to accomplish hazard mitigation work.

Dr. Daniel Meade, a scientist at the Ellwood Monarch Sites, has documented Goleta’s butterfly resources for about 22 years and said it is important to address the issue of protecting the city’s natural resource. “This is important, to integrate with wildfires, because the thing that we don’t want to happen is to lose the groves through a fire or clearing,” Meade said. “Working together is important.”

Attendees at the workshop were asked to pinpoint which issues they sought to address within fire planning. The protection of homes and neighborhoods, along with the protection of sensitive habitats and other natural and historical resources came out at the top of the list, while protection of commercial and industrial zones placed lowest on the priority list for the community in attendance.

Although there has yet to be a final decision with the Wildland Fire Plan and Monarch Butterfly Habitat Management plan, the researchers assured the gathering that the plan will be scientific, feasible, and balanced.

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