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Grants Available to Restore Los Padres National Forest Watersheds Impacted by Zaca, Piru Fires

Forest Service is partnering with National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to offer $11 million in grants

The Los Padres National Forest is partnering with a national conservation group to award $11 million in grants to those with plans to restore watersheds impacted years ago by the Zaca and Piru Fires.

In a first-time partnership, Los Padres is coordinating with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to issue the funds over the next five years, with the first deadline for grantees coming up at 5 p.m. on Jan. 13, 2016.

U.S. Forest Service spokesman Andrew Madsen said partnering with NFWF takes some work off the national forestry’s plate to figure out how to spend the money gained from settlements with parties responsible for those forest fires.

The Zaca Fire that burned in the Santa Ynez Valley in 2007 and the Piru Fire that charred Ventura County acreage in 2003 significantly impacted Los Padres National Forest — burning a combined 280,000-plus acres of national forest land and devastating landscapes, watersheds and ecosystems of the region.

Madsen said an investigation found the Zaca Fire was sparked by a work crew using a grinding machine to repair a water line on private land near Zaca Lake, north of Los Olivos.

The Piru Fire was likewise sparked by construction crews from two Ventura-based contractors, who were using a cutting tool near Piru Lake, he said.

“In the case of Zaca and Piru, that legal process plays out over years and years,” Madsen said of finally receiving settlements in both cases. “The purpose of the money is to rehabilitate.”

NFWF, which has helped award restoration grants in other federal forests, hosted an open house for potential applicants this week at UC Santa Barbara’s Bren Hall.

Through this program, NFWF will invest in projects that provide sustainable and lasting ecological benefits, promote ecological resilience to future wildfires and improve the forest’s capacity to identify and address resource management issues.

Manzana Creek, a tributary to the Sisquoc River in the Zaca Fire boundary, has been identified as a primary focal area for the initial stages of the program, Madsen said.

Possible projects would improve forest health through invasive species eradication, re-vegetation or by targeting the restoration and protection of species like the steelhead trout, California condor and bigcone Douglas-fir tree.

“One of the things that NFWF does very well is leverage the funds we manage with matching funds in order to increase the impact and value of our conservation projects,” said Jim Bond, manager of NFWF’s Southern California Forest office.

“Potential grantees are required to contribute a certain amount of matching value to their proposed projects but it need not necessarily be via donated funds. In-kind services can also count toward match. In that way, groups may fulfill their requirements using the value of time, equipment or labor. This is particularly useful for smaller non-profit groups and other organizations that may have limited operating budgets.”

Bond said biologists, botanists, steelhead experts, trail crews, local nonprofits and more turned out for the open house.

All grant applicants must submit material online through the NFWF website by clicking here.

The first round of awards will be announced May 9, 2016, when approximately $1.5 million will be distributed. Grants will range in size from $25,000 to $500,000 per project, although more funding could be allocated for projects with large benefits or multi-year projects.

According to NFWF, single project grants will typically be awarded to projects that can be completed within 18 months.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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