Since its inception in 1911, the Forestry Division of the County of Los Angeles Fire Department has been involved in the conservation and protection of natural resources through its forestry programs.
Originally, the Forestry Division, under the direction of County Forester Stuart J. Flintham, was tasked with planting trees along major avenues and roadways throughout the Los Angeles Basin. In the early days of the automobile and paved roads, ongoing maintenance was a costly proposition. Much of the damage on these early roads was caused by exposure to the hot summer weather. Planting shade trees along the roadways lessened annual repairs and maintenance costs.
During the early 1900s, the County Fire/Fish and Game Warden was responsible for controlling wildland fire. However, from 1915-1919, the level of activity recorded by the Fire Warden was in continuous decline. When two large fires consumed 135,000 acres of timber and watershed in the San Gabriel Mountains during September 1919, the Board of Supervisors decided that a change of venue for the County Fire/Fish and Game Warden was at hand. On July 1, 1920, a few short months after the smoke had cleared; the responsibility for wildland fire control was shifted to the newly renamed Los Angeles County Department of Forester and Fire Warden. Today, this agency is better known as the County of Los Angeles Fire Department.
During this time, planting and caring for trees at the numerous County Parks also became the responsibility of the Forester and Fire Warden. Some of the earliest trees planted by County Foresters still exist in Sunland Park in the community of Sunland. This was the first park where County Foresters planted trees. Evidence of their early efforts is present in the form of the towering pine trees that stand on the site today.
The Forestry Division Today
Today, the Forestry Division is comprised of three sections: Operations, Natural Resources, and Brush Clearance. The employees of the Forestry Division serve the citizens by using their knowledge to preserve and enhance the environment for the benefit of all residents of Los Angeles County. The Forestry Division employs a group of professionals from diverse backgrounds, including natural resources management, forestry, horticulture, recreation and landscape architecture. Currently staffed with 39 professionals, the Forestry Division is responsible for the review of environmental documents related to development and protection of oak tree resources, development of vegetation management plans and proposals, coordination of wildland fire planning, enforcement of the Department’s brush clearance program, and review of fuel modification plans. In addition, the Forestry Division staffs five Forestry units, located across the County, which provide service to the constituents of Los Angeles County . The five Forestry units are located in Malibu, Saugus, Lake Hughes, San Dimas, and at Henninger Flats in the foothills above Altadena. At each unit, tree seedlings are provided to the public and advice is shared with local homeowners. Frequently, school-age children visit to learn about nature and the environment.
Other projects of the Forestry Division include live fuel moisture monitoring, the removal of invasive plants species from the San Gabriel River channel, planting of native vegetation, and staffing booths and displays at the annual Antelope Valley and Los Angeles County Fairs.
Since April 2004 the Forestry Division has supervised the juvenile court wards assigned to Forestry Camp 17. This program provides training in Forestry practices and provides useful skills for life. In addition, it provides a solid workforce that can assist with labor intensive work projects undertaken by the Forestry Division.
During major emergencies, the Forestry Division is tasked with providing logistical support for operational personnel. This can become a complicated task when large areas of Los Angeles County are affected by natural disasters. Recent major emergencies in Los Angeles County included several large fires in the northern areas of Los Angeles County during 2004, and the firestorms that affected all of Southern California during October, 2003.
Technical activities that the Forestry Division is involved with include the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to map wildland fires and provide assessments of limited natural resources. The Forestry Division also oversees development and staffs the Department’s Infrared and Fire Mapping Program. This helicopter-based aerial camera completes simultaneous mapping of the fire perimeter and highlights hot spots near the fire line that could lead to additional fire spread.