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File #: 2022-1333   
Type: Regular Calendar Item Status: Agenda Ready
File created: 11/9/2022 In control: Agricultural Preservation And Open Space District
On agenda: 1/10/2023 Final action:
Title: 2023 Vegetation Management Program Update and Healthy Forests Ad Hoc Committee Recommendations
Department or Agency Name(s): Agricultural Preservation And Open Space District, County Administrator
Attachments: 1. Summary Report.pdf, 2. REVISED Summary Report, 3. Attachment 1 - 2023 VMGP Budget-Adjustment-Resolution.pdf, 4. Attachment 2 - Summary of Vegetation Management Grant Activities 2021-22, 5. Attachment 3 - Healthy Forests Ad Hoc Committee Charter, 6. Attachment 4 - Technical Advisory Committee List, 7. Attachment 5 - Draft Organizational Chart – Resiliency Coordination Team, 8. REVISED V2 2023 Vegetation Management Program Update and Healthy Forests Ad Hoc Committee Recommendations PPT.pdf, 9. REVISED 2023 Veg Mgt Update + Ad Hoc Recommendations 01102023 final v4.pdf

To: Board of Directors of Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District and Board of Supervisors for Sonoma County of Sonoma 

Department or Agency Name(s): Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, County Administrator

Staff Name and Phone Number: Kim Batchelder, 565-7355; Christel Querijero, 565-7071

Vote Requirement: 4/5th

Supervisorial District(s): Countywide




2023 Vegetation Management Program Update and Healthy Forests Ad Hoc Committee Recommendations



Recommended Action:

Recommended action

A)                     Receive report and consider recommendations from the Healthy Forests Ad Hoc Committee regarding vegetation management funding and activities.

B)                     Authorize the County Administrator to negotiate and execute a two-year Memorandum of Understanding with Gold Ridge and Sonoma Resource Conservation Districts for approximately $900,000 to be administered by the Vegetation Management Coordinator (or Ag + Open Space) to scale up a series of workshops, provide direct technical assistance and work with regional collaborative processes that support ecologically and scientifically sound approaches to reduce wildfire threat and enhance natural landscapes in and around critical population centers.

C)                     Approve the Budget Adjustment Resolution to the 2017 PG&E Settlement Fund within the Non-Departmental Budget for $4.44 million (see Attachment 1). This Resolution will provide $3,000,000 to fund 2023 Vegetation Management Grant Agreements, $600,000 for capacity building through a series of workshops, webinars, field events to community organizations and resource managers and landowners, $150,000 to update Sonoma County Community Wildfire Protection Plan Project Tracker and Wildfire Resilience Planner and Wildfire Fuel Mapper software, $400,000 to provide technical support to regional collaborations, and $290,000 for administrative and technical support (4/5th Vote).

(4/5th Vote Required)



Executive Summary:

This item provides a summary of recent actions throughout Sonoma County and proposes recommendations for future strategies and actions the County can take to improve the efficacy of vegetation management treatments and promote wildfire resiliency. These proposed actions will enhance collaboration between County departments and agencies and state, regional, non-profit and academic partners with the goal of improving wildfire resiliency in Sonoma County.  Specifically, the Ad Hoc committee recommends an expenditure of $4.44 million. This funding will support vegetation treatments, training and capacity building, and encourage further collaboration between proactive community organizations, fire services, resource managers and county and state entities to meet the many challenges of reducing the threat of wildfires to our communities while managing our natural landscapes in a responsible manner.





On October 6, 2020, the Board of Supervisors allocated $25 million from PG&E settlement funds towards vegetation management to protect communities and help landowners and resource managers work together to reduce the threat of wildfire and improve the health of natural ecosystems. In December 2020, the Board approved the use of additional PG&E settlement funds to retain U.C. Berkeley’s Center for Law, Energy and the Environment (CLEE) to convene local and regional stakeholders and resource experts to develop recommendations for using the $25 million, and for the development and outreach of community and landscape-scale wildfire decision support tools. Subsequently, the Board allocated $8.3 million to vegetation management grant agreements, $300,000 to support environmental compliance for projects along the Russian River, $500,000 to Santa Rosa Junior College to support professional development in wildfire mitigation and vegetation management, $500,000 for technical assistance for project development, and $660,000 for the vegetation management coordinator position at Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District (Ag + Open Space).


CLEE’s recommendations, presented to the Board on March 23, 2021, identified six categories as a framework for prioritizing, allocating and leveraging PG&E settlement funds allocated for vegetation management: Immediate Vegetation Management Activities; Community Outreach and Education; Labor and Workforce Development; Data, Planning, and Mapping; Centralizing Governance and Project Coordination; and Long-term Financial Sustainability.


In June 2021, 19 grants were awarded to community vegetation management projects around the County. In September 2021, the Vegetation Management Coordinator was hired by Ag + Open Space. In October 2021, Ag + Open Space convened a Vegetation Management Grant Program Technical Advisory Committee (VGMP TAC). In April 2022, the VGMP TAC assisted in evaluating 18 new and 9 conditionally approved vegetation management grant projects (see Attachment 2 - Summary of Vegetation Management Grant Activity 2021-22).  To date, approximately $11 million of the $25 million has been committed (as further described below), leaving a balance of $14 million.


In February 2022, the Board formed a Healthy Forests Ad Hoc Committee and tasked Ag + Open Space to coordinate this committee (consisting of Supervisors Gore and Hopkins) to “propose specific strategies to leverage and utilize the remaining funds from the PG&E settlement funds to best protect our communities and landscapes from large scale wildfires and improve the health of our natural resources” (see Attachment 3 - Ad Hoc Charter). In fall 2022, the VMGP TAC presented recommendations to the Ad Hoc Committee and the Ad Hoc Committee also hosted a community outreach meeting seeking community input.  The Ad Hoc Committee and supporting staff recommend allocating $4,440,000 as described below, leaving a balance of $9,574,506 for future funding and leveraging.


Using the CLEE report as a framework, this item summarizes recent wildfire resiliency activities and proposes recommendations for future strategies and actions the County can take to improve wildfire resiliency.



CLEE Recommendation: Provide funding to community-based projects to increase resilience in high-risk zones in advance of the 2021 and 2022 fire seasons, with priority for shovel-ready projects, local organizations with track records of success, multi-benefit work, and other criteria.


Summary of Recent Actions:

In the spring of 2021, Ag + Open Space and County Administrator’s Office (CAO) staff worked to create Vegetation Management Grant Program (VMGP). A multi-agency proposal review committee was formed to review over 95 vegetation management project proposals leading to 19 executed grant agreements by July 1, 2021. On April 29, 2022, the Board approved an additional 27 grant-funded projects to reduce fuels, improve evacuation routes and protect threatened community infrastructure and develop a series of shaded fuel breaks near communities and residential areas to reduce the risk of wildfires (Table 1). In addition to the wide variety of vegetation treatments on the ground, the VMGP funded several educational and outreach efforts such as the development of a vegetation management handbook to be compiled by a consortium of non-profit and county organizations for landowners, resource managers, and fuel crews specific to Sonoma County and its diverse habitat types.

Table 1: Grant Funded Project Summary by Treatment Type


Type of Treatment Funded



# of Projects

Multiple Treatments




Shaded Fuel Breaks / Calming Zones




Prescribed Fire




Treatment of Burned Areas




Defensible Space / Roadside Treatments




Prescribed Grazing




Education/Outreach /Research/Planning




Total Funding:








Number of Projects Funded:




Proposed Treatment Area (acres)





Recommendation ($3,000,000):  Provide $3,000,000 in funding for a 2023 Vegetation Management Grant Program which can also include funding to support project development and environmental review.




CLEE Recommendation: Outreach and education capacity to spearhead communication with landowners, businesses, and residents on actions private individuals can take to reduce fire risk, including dollars specifically allocated for bilingual and equity-focused outreach.


Summary of Recent Actions:

There have been over 30 public training and capacity-building events hosted throughout Sonoma County over the past year, including the following:


1.  PG&E settlement funds and other funding sources such as CALFIRE and State Coastal Conservancy have supported workshops, webinars, field trainings, and community events to help communicate the wide range of efforts happening throughout the county to reduce wildfire threat and manage natural resources in a way that improves the conditions of local ecosystems.


2.  Gold Ridge and Sonoma Resource Conservation Districts (RCDs) have developed a LandSmart Grazing for Community Resilience Program focused on connecting landowners with grazers to address fuel loads on their properties.


3.  Fire Safe Sonoma has coordinated community meetings to bring landowners, community members, fire service professionals, and government resource entities to work on local Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPPs).


4.  Permit Sonoma has performed outreach and engagement as part of the implementation of several FEMA Hazard Mitigation Program Grants:  Wildfire Adapted Sonoma County (defensible space and structure hardening); Hazardous Fuels Management, and Community Wildfire Protection Program (CWPP) Plan update. The CWPP Hub Site which brings together numerous on-line resources was launched as part of this process.  Additional extensive outreach will occur as part of the recently awarded Wildfire Resilient Sonoma County FEMA Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) grant.


5.  UCCE hired a Wildfire Vegetation Mitigation Program Manager to help develop science-based programs and tools to assist landowners and managers with reducing risk through wildfire vegetation management. UCCE is also launching a comprehensive website in January 2023.


Many of these training events have been hosted on-line and recorded and posted on local websites and in-person field events open to all interested landowners or resource managers. The recommendations below aim to be more comprehensive and coordinated so that disadvantaged communities, vegetation crews and diverse landowners will have opportunities to participate. For example, Sonoma County Forest Conservation Working Group, under the leadership of Gold Ridge RCD, is developing the Living with Fire: Sonoma County Forest Management Conference for April 2023 to reach all audiences from resource management professionals, fire service professionals, academia, landowners, disadvantaged communities, field crews, and local community organizations.


Recommendations ($600,000):

Provide a County website/portal for landowners and resource managers highlighting grant programs, technical assistance providers, best management practices, and other resources available through the County and partners.


Contract with the RCDs to offer training and outreach programs to build community capacity in project development, environmental compliance, technical prescriptions for vegetation management, proposal development, and to provide funding to support Sonoma County Forest Conservation Working Group to sponsor the Living with Fire: Sonoma County Forest Management Conference.




CLEE Recommendations: Invest in career training programs to launch a self-sustaining skilled and dedicated workforce equipped to meet long-term vegetation management needs. Vegetation management jobs can offer a pathway to a high-quality, well-paying, local career, provide workforce training and long-term career growth opportunities to lower-income communities and communities of color, and staff vital capacities for future resilience creating a skilled workforce.

Summary of Recent Actions:

In March 2021, the Board of Supervisors awarded $500,000 to Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC) to support training for future wildfire resilience professionals and resource managers. Using Shone Farm forest and property, SRJC is now able to offer a new internship program to pay competitive hourly rates to interns who practically apply these skills on Shone Farm. All these efforts are building the foundation for the college to offer a Wildfire Resilience Certificate Program in the near future.


Another excellent example is the Fire Forward capacity-building program. This program, developed by Audubon Canyon Ranch, has led to the training of 350 Basic Wildland Firefighters, many of whom have participated in over 185 prescribed burns throughout the county over the past two years. Fire Forward has developed an outline for a county-wide cadre of burn crews as part of a sustainable career pathway, including entry-level positions, crew leaders, GIS support, and burn bosses developed and trained in Sonoma County to support communities and landowners.


North Sonoma County Fire District and Sonoma Valley Fire District have trained firefighters to work during the offseason on preventative measures like vegetation management in their respective districts using grant funds to support crews in developing shaded fuel breaks, prescribed burns and other vegetation management projects around Cloverdale and Geyserville and the Mill Creek watershed.


Recommendation:  Continue to coordinate with and support organizations working on workforce development for wildfire resiliency programs at the local level and pursue incentives to retain prescribed burn crews and vegetation management career opportunities.



CLEE Recommendation: Collect and analyze best available data, mapping, and planning efforts that expand on the County’s Community Wildfire Protection Plan and other key data-collection initiatives to inform smart decision-making throughout the county.


Summary of Recent Actions:


Permit Sonoma is in the final stages of preparing an updated County Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) funded by a FEMA HMGP grant.  As part of the update a Wildfire Risk Index (WRI) was developed that incorporated the best available information to map potential wildfire risk at the scale of 100 hectare polygons for the entire county.  This data is available to the public in a viewer at the CWPP Hub Site (<>). 


Another key data need has been to acquire new Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) data for Sonoma County, last acquired in fall of 2013. Ag + Open Space and Sonoma Water each contributed $50,000 towards the acquisition of LiDAR data and development of a digital elevation model, led by U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and North Coast Regional Partnership (NCRP). The new flyover is scheduled for winter of 2022/23 and includes Sonoma County and many North Coast counties. Usable data are expected to be publicly available by July 2023.  With this data, a vegetation change analysis comparing 2013 and 2023 conditions can be performed by updating the Sonoma Veg Map.


In addition to these efforts, the Board of Supervisors has supported the development of two planning software tools to assist in planning and prioritization for vegetation management projects the  Wildfire Fuel Mapper <>  and the Wildfire Resilience Planner. These powerful planning tools will help to complete parcel-level (Fuel Mapper) and landscape-level (Wildfire Resilience Planner) prioritization of investments where fuels treatment strategies will best protect lives and property, critical infrastructure, ecosystem services, and biodiversity. The Wildfire Resilience Planner combines best available science and spatial data with over 120 different datasets to help prioritize efforts for strategic wildfire risk reduction.


Recommendations ($150,000):

1)                     Using the new LiDAR dataset, update the Sonoma Veg Map and conduct a change analysis of 2013 conditions versus 2023 conditions.

2)                     Begin to use the new decision support tools (Wildfire Resilience Planner, Wildfire Fuel Mapper) in project planning in Vegetation Management Grant Program as well as Permit Sonoma’s FEMA funded vegetation management projects.

3)                     Plan the next steps of data and project integration and mapping with the CWPP, VMGP and other project planners and mappers.



CLEE Recommendation: Centralizing stakeholder coordination and governance. Improve capacity to centralize county efforts, streamline permitting, gather data, and lead outreach initiatives, such as a new multi-agency working group with long-term dedicated staff.


Summary of Recent Actions:


The Vegetation Management Grant Program has had the additional benefit of facilitating inter-departmental and inter-agency coordination regarding wildfire resiliency efforts and vegetation management.  The VMGP TAC includes members from County departments and agencies, CALFIRE, local fire districts, NGOs and RCDs (see Attachment 4).  It has also facilitated coordination with Permit Sonoma’s FEMA funded wildfire resiliency grant projects which has required the development of an inter-divisional staffing plan comprised of staff and project managers in fire prevention and natural resources, GIS support, as well as grant, accounting and contract staff and managers.  Permit Sonoma has also been providing CEQA and environmental review to the VMGP and projects at Regional Parks.  The Ag + Open Space Vegetation Management Coordinator and the Permit Sonoma Natural Resource Division meet regularly to coordinate and discuss next steps with their respective efforts.


In addition to these more project focused efforts, staff from Ag + Open Space, Permit Sonoma, Sonoma Water, County Administrator’s Office Climate Action and Resiliency Division, and County Counsel’s Office have discussed organizational structure options that could provide heightened coordination and serve as an intermediate step that would inform whether a new, stand-alone wildfire resiliency entity should be formed (see Attachment 5). A Resiliency Coordination Team (RCT) comprised of County department and agency heads and their designees would provide a coordination forum and hub for all County resiliency efforts and oversee several technical advisory committees focused on vegetation management, defensible space/structure hardening, organizational structure/funding, and the Climate Action Land Strategy.


Recommendations ($400,000):


1)                     Coordinate and integrate the efforts of the VMGP with the FEMA funded wildfire resiliency projects being implemented through Permit Sonoma.

2)                     Support staff-created County Resiliency Coordination Team to focus on collaboration and communication between County agencies and departments and State and local partners to support long-term wildfire resilience.

3)                     Support staff-created Technical Advisory Committees/Working Group for:

a.                     Organizational Structure & Funding analysis, cost estimates & County coordination

b.                     Home-hardening, defensible space, public infrastructure (House-Out)

c.                     Landscape-level vegetation management (Landscape-In) - ecological monitoring, restoration and enhancement pared with wildfire resilience (existing TAC - Vegetation Management)

d.                     Implementation of the Climate Resilient Lands Strategy (Lands Strategy Working Group)

4)                     Hire or contract for a full-time coordinator/facilitator for the Resiliency Coordination Team and its supporting TACs. 

5)                     Test Stewardship Plan concept with RCDs to plan and prioritize regional fuel load management, fire resilience strategies, evacuation priorities, resource protection, watershed health, under a variety of different treatments (under the MOU).

6)                     Financially support consultant / technical collaborator to work with regionally identified collaborations / regional priorities and ongoing work.



CLEE Recommendations: Identify and analyze long-term financial sustainability instruments to generate recurring funds for vegetation management, such as a countywide financing district, new parcel or sales tax, or resilience bond.


Summary of Recent Actions:

As discussed in the preceding CLEE Report recommendation, long-term financial sustainability would be a main focus for the Organizational Structure/Funding TAC proposed to be created by staff as part of the Resiliency Coordination Team. More immediately, Ag + Open Space staff and TAC members have considered a number of immediate funding opportunities to support vegetation management efforts county-wide. The County is in a unique position to pursue both state and federal funding opportunities that have been developed over the past 2-3 years. For instance, in 2022 the US Forest Service launched a new grant program aiming to spend $1 billion in the next five years to support the development and implementation of Community Wildfire Protection Plans throughout the country. With the approval of the Sonoma County CWPP scheduled for February of 2023, the County should aggressively pursue this funding source since the PG&E would serve as an ideal non-federal match.


Similarly, CALFIRE Forest Health and Fire Prevention grant programs would likely respond favorably to a PG&E settlement fund match that Sonoma County vegetation management projects could offer. The Ad Hoc Committee strongly encourages this approach at this point of the PG&E funding cycle. As described above, the County now has identified the tools to set our fuel treatment priorities and can analyze the gaps to determine the best place to invest these funds. However, the PG&E funds should now be leveraged as best as possible to get the most sustained efforts going forward.



1)                     Seek block grants from CALFIRE to support and maintain fuel treatments across the County.

2)                     Apply for funding through US Forest Service Community Wildfire Defense Grant program.

3)                     Engage fire services, vegetation management, home hardening and general public as future funding mechanisms.

4)                     Address long-term financial mechanisms through the Technical Advisory Committee - Organizational Structure and Funding.



Ag + Open Space was asked to manage the Vegetation Management Grant Program in March 2021. Administrative, community relations and planning staff worked with County Counsel and the County Administrative Office staff to create the grant agreement template, request for proposal and promotional materials, generated a list of interested applicants, and provided a website and advertising to promote the new grant program and successfully attracted 115 applicants over the first two years. Ag + Open Space management team recruited and selected a time-limited 3-year Vegetation Management Coordinator position to lead the grant program and coordinate efforts between County departments, special districts, non-profit partners, and CALFIRE. Technical expertise from stewardship and conservation planners with administrative team support provided input to the Coordinator to improve the grant program by vetting criteria, establishing a fiscal and narrative monitoring program for grantees to measure performance, and worked with Permit Sonoma and grantees to ensure environmental compliance and best management practices were being applied.


To date additional staff expenses have totaled $80,000 beyond the expenses for the Vegetation Management Coordinator.  These expenses are funded by PG&E settlement fund since the Ag + Open Space expenditure plan does not permit the use of funding for these purposes. The original Board approved budget resolution allocated $660,000 to support this program. At the current trajectory these funds will likely be exhausted by December 2023. It is estimated that Ag + Open Space will need an additional $150,000 to fund the program through the current expiration date to support the Vegetation Management program activities through staff time and additional contractual support.


Ag + Open Space staff is actively seeking additional funding to support this program beyond the current expiration. To fund the programs administrative functions the following is proposed;



Recommendations ($290,000):


1)                     PG&E settlement funding to support $150,000 in Ag + Open Space administrative and planning staff expenses and associated contractual support through FY 23/24.

2)                     PG&E settlement funding of approximately $140,000 for a time-limited position to provide overall program support.  A separate board item will follow on January 24, 2023 with more information about the position request.

3)                     As the program successfully secures additional funding from other sources it will be necessary to cover administrative support to the grant program and related activities.


Vegetation Management Funding Overview

On October 6, 2020, the Board of Supervisors allocated $25,000,000 of the 2017 PG&E settlement award toward Vegetation Management.  The table below provides an update on how these funds have been designated since that time and serves to illustrate that approximately $14,000,000 of the original $25,000,000 has yet to be allocated. The funding requests outlined above amount to a request for $4,440,000 from the remaining $14,014,506 resulting in a balance of $9,574,506.



Board Date


 Allocate $25M to Vegetation Management



2021 Community grants for Vegetation Management



Santa Rosa Junior College Funding



Vegetation Management Coordinator Salary & Benefits (3 years)



Permit Sonoma staffing for CEQA support



Set aside for community projects once CEQA issues are resolved ($3,000,000 was set aside only $2,000,000 was needed)

7/13/2021; updated 4/19/22


Community grants for Vegetation Management - 2022



Technical Assistance for community grants



2023 Vegetation Management Grant program



Community Outreach and Education



Data Planning Mapping and Prioritization



Organizational Structure and Funding



Programmatic and Administrative Support



Vegetation Management Allocations Made/Proposed To date:



Remaining Balance:




Strategic Plan:

This item directly supports the County’s Five-year Strategic Plan and is aligned with the following pillar, goal, and objective.


Pillar: Climate Action and Resiliency

Goal: Goal 5: Continue to invest in public safety so that residents and visitors feel safe in our community.

Objective: Objective 2: Expand outreach and education on vegetation management and provide additional resources to land owners to help mitigate fire risk.


Prior Board Actions:

October 6, 2020 - Allocation of $25M from the PG&E settlement for vegetation management

December 15, 2020 - Received County and community feedback on vegetation management priorities; allocated $70,000 for CLEE groups and $1.6M for UCCE and Sonoma Water to develop a countywide, integrated decision support framework. The framework included UCCE’s expansion of fuel mapper decision support tool and outreach to parcel-scale decision support tool and Sonoma Water’s development of the Wildfire Resilience Planner (landscape-scale tool).

March 23, 2021 - Approved up to $4M for community grants for vegetation management projects and $660,000 allocated to Ag + Open Space hire Vegetation Management Coordinator.

July 13, 2021 - Approved $300,000 to Permit Sonoma for Extra Help to lead Cal VTP and $3M to support seven vegetation management projects and future projects.

October 19, 2021 - PGE Settlement Funded Vegetation Management Grant Program informational update.

February 1, 2022 - Formation of the Healthy Forests Ad Hoc Committee.

April 29, 2022 - Approved $5.3M for community grants for vegetation management projects and $500,000 for direct technical assistance to community organizations and resource managers to make vegetation treatment projects more successful.


Fiscal Summary


FY 22-23 Adopted

FY22-23 Projected

FY 23-24 Projected

Budgeted Expenses




Additional Appropriation Requested




Total Expenditures




Funding Sources




General Fund/WA GF








Fees/Other - PG&E Settlement Funds




Use of Fund Balance








Total Sources





Narrative Explanation of Fiscal Impacts:

The funds for these grant activities are derived from the PG&E settlement funds. Recommendations for $3,000,000 will be appropriated for the 2023 grant recommendations and $600,000 to training and capacity building, and $400,000 to provide direct technical assistance and support regional collaborative processes, and $150,000 to update the CWPP Project Tracker and $290,000 for staff time and administrative support. A separate item will follow on January 24, 2023, with more details around the staffing  and administrative support needs of the program, including a request for a new time limited position.


Staffing Impacts:




Position Title (Payroll Classification)

Monthly Salary Range (A-I Step)

Additions (Number)

Deletions (Number)














Narrative Explanation of Staffing Impacts (If Required):

Click or tap here to enter text.



1.                     2023 Vegetation Management Grant Program Budget-Adjustment Resolution

2.                     Summary of Vegetation Management Grant Activities 2021-22

3.                     Healthy Forests Ad Hoc Committee Charter

4.                     Technical Advisory Committee List

5.                     Draft Organizational Chart - Resiliency Coordination Team


Related Items “On File” with the Clerk of the Board: