Improving biodiversity and curbing fire fuels

China Camp joins big push to create defensible space and improve habitat in San Rafael

Invasive weeds, dead or dying trees and shrubs, fallen limbs and tangled undergrowth—these are the targets of a major campaign in and around China Camp in recent months. Following the lead of the California Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR), which has responsibility for vegetation management, Friends of China Camp has made a big push to improve habitat, reduce fuels that could increase the risk of wildfire, and create defensible spaces in and around the park.

FOCC Volunteer Joyce Abrams gets into her work clearing flammable debris from the China Camp Ranger Station in Fall 2021. Photo by Ian Nelson
Volunteer Joyce Abrams clears leaf debris.

In recent weeks, Friends of China Camp has targeted key areas, such as the park headquarters compound, which includes both residential and maintenance buildings and equipment. Volunteers and staff have cleared away cartloads of leaf litter, undergrowth, dead and low-hanging limbs, and fallen trees. Vegetation along the road to Back Ranch Meadows Campground has also been cleared.

Friends of China Camp has also been working in partnership with adjacent neighborhoods and management agencies. For example, last spring, Friends of China Camp joined forces with the Point San Pedro Road Coalition, San Rafael Fire Department (SRFD), and others to co-sponsor a one-day event for pulling invasive French broom. Efforts focused on the park’s border near Peacock Gap. Teams yanked out enough of the highly flammable invasive weed to fill two large debris bins. In coming weeks, additional SRFD broom-pulling events are slated for the area, and volunteers are encouraged to take part.

Crews create San Pedro Mountain safety buffers

On a larger scale, the 2020 passage of Marin County’s Measure C has greatly increased local funding for wildfire mitigation efforts, including projects that directly impact China Camp. These include the South San Pedro Mountain Fuel Reduction Project, a collaboration between the newly established Marin Wildfire Prevention Authority, DPR, and the San Rafael Fire Department. 

China Camp trailhead before Winter 2021-22 fuel reduction
Trailhead before fuel reduction.

The project, which kicked off Thanksgiving week and will continue into spring, has an impressive goal. Efforts aim to reduce wildfire fuel and create defensible space along a six-mile-long stretch—42 acres in all (eight of them in China Camp)—of wildland/urban interface impacting nearly 1,000 homes. To date, the project has included weeks of work in San Rafael’s upper Glenwood neighborhood, site of trailheads into China Camp at the top of McNear and Knight Drives. At these key points, fire department crews have created an impressive 130-foot buffer, removing excess fuels and invasive weeds. Strict guidelines on this and other projects protect mature trees and rare plants, as well as nesting birds, key wildlife habitat, and other resources.

China Camp trailhead after Winter 2021-22 fuel reduction by Kevin Smead
China Camp trailhead after fuel reduction.

Friends of China Camp applauds these important wildfire safety measures. We are committed to pitching in when we can, thanks to support from our volunteers, and from donors who help cover the cost of our equipment and more.

For questions about wildfire management or defensible space permits at China Camp, contact Cyndy Shafer, Natural Resource Program Manager, CA State Parks/Bay Area District (Cyndy.Shafer@parks.ca.gov; 707/769-5652, x208).—reported by volunteer Kevin Smead

PHoto credits: Joyce Abrams; Ian Nelson; Kevin Smead

NOTICE: Some sites at the Back Ranch Meadows Campground will be closed Sunday through Thursday from November 14, 2022 until May 13, 2023 due to construction. The group site will remain open during the week. Go to reservecalifornia.com for available reservations.

ADVISORY: December 3, 2023, 8am-2pm. Footrace beginning at Miwok Meadows. Expect increased foot traffic on Shoreline Trail, Oak Ridge Trail, and Bayview trail. Plan your trip to the park accordingly. See calendar for details.