As an excavator tore up vegetation just 100 feet from her back fence on Monday, Judy Wudel worried that the San Joaquin County project to build a fire road in the Woodbridge Wilderness Area may cause her home to flood and destroy local wildlife.
County officials are building a firebreak behind homes that border the nature preserve to cut down on the risk of those homes catching fire. During the 2008 fire that burned 8 acres of the Woodbridge Wilderness Area, four homes suffered minor roof damage.
Wudel said she is concerned that the removal of vegetation from the area will cause the berm that runs behind residents houses to erode — causing homes to flood should the Mokelumne River, which runs through the wilderness area, overflow its banks.
“They’ve created another problem instead of solving one,” Wudel said. “They’ve destroyed a habitat. I just hope we don’t get heavy rain. I think that would be a problem.”
Wudel and other area residents received a letter in July from San Joaquin County Parks Administrator Duncan Jones letting them know that work would soon be starting on the fire road. It explained that an excavator would be used and that “special species of plants and animals” would be protected.
Jones said that in the wake of the 2008 fire, the county is working to protect residents from future wildfires in the area.
“We’re trying to catch up right now, but it needs to be maintained,” Jones said Monday. “In this case, I believe the vast majority are really happy we’re getting in there and doing something.”
He said he personally walked the area on Thursday to mark off plants the excavator is supposed to leave in place with pink plastic tape.
Jones said the fire road is really more of a firebreak. It will not be paved, and will probably only be used by emergency vehicles during a fire. The county rented the excavator for a month at the cost of $4,500.
Woodbridge resident Glenda McBride said she suggested the county use goats to maintain the area by letting them eat the underbrush.
She and Wudel wondered on Monday why the county decided to tear out the brush with an excavator instead.
Jones said the county does plan to use goats to help control the growth, but was told a lot of the dense underbrush and blackberry bushes needed to be cleared first.
As for flooding, Jones said it is illegal drainage pipes from that run from the peoples’ backyards and drain onto the berm — not rain — that are the real cause of erosion in the area.
Removing the underbrush and debris in the area will allow the county to more easily identify the illegal drain pipes and have owners remove them. It will also allow workers to identify parts of the berm which need to be repaired.
Jones said the county will also be trimming the canopy of the old-growth trees in the preserve and developing a master plan for the Woodbridge Wilderness Area in the near future.
Contact reporter Todd Allen Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org.