Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Portion of Gap Fire burn area to get hydromulch


Before rain starts falling from the sky this winter, residents in the Goleta area will see a storm of hydromulch dropping from a fleet of aircraft starting tomorrow over parts of the Gap Fire burn area.
In the months since the fire tore through the hills above Goleta and threatened thousands of homes, U.S. Forest Service watershed experts have determined hydromulching would be the most effective way to minimize erosion across burned slopes, a statement from the Forest Service said.

“Hydromulch will help hold the soil in place and create an environment in which native seeds and roots already present in the soil can sprout and take hold,” said Forest Supervisor Peggy Hernandez.
The hydromulch mixture is all-organic, according to the Forest Service statement, and is made of recycled paper and wood fiber, water and a binding agent made of guar gum, a plant-based substance commonly used to make food thicker. The statement says the mulch does not contain seeds or fertilizer, but does require use of an organic green dye to help pilots monitor application. The green tint will fade to brownish-gray after a couple of days, the statement said.
“We will be treating carefully selected areas that meet slope and burn severity criteria,” said Santa Barbara District Ranger Cindy Chojnacky, who will oversee the operation. “We are treating high risk areas that sustained high and remote burn severity on the slopes up to 60 percent. There are no effective treatments for slopes steeper than that.”
Six small airplanes and one large helicopter will begin dropping the mulch tomorrow. Officials estimate it will take three to four weeks and cost nearly $4.8 million, or $3,200 per acre to spread mulch over the 1,531 acres of National Forest land burned by the Gap Fire.
Each airplane carries 800 gallons of hydromulch, enough to cover about one-third of an acre. The helicopter carries about 2,000 gallons of mulch, which should cover roughly one acre per load.
The statement said the aircraft will complete as many as 250 flights per day out of the Santa Barbara Airport.
The general treatment area, which stretches from West Camino Cielo Road west of Windermere Ranch and east of Broadcast Peak, will be closed to the public during the mulching operation. The closure also includes the Lizard’s Mouth and Playground areas. The closures do not impact private property owners.
The treated lands will remain closed to public entry for at least one year to prevent disruption of the mulch cover, the statement said.
“Walking, biking, driving or horseback riding on the mulch will compromise the protective mat and reduce its effectiveness leading to more erosion,” Chojnacky said. “Protecting the damaged watershed, and minimizing the threat to communities below the fire, is going to take a concerted team effort over a long period of time. We really need the public’s assistance and cooperation.”
More information about the hydromulching operation is available at www.fs.fed.us/r5/lospadres/conditions.

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