Neither rain nor chill deterred locals from attending the Ojai Women’s Fund (OWF) presentation of FOCUS: Our Environment, at The Ojai Woman’s Club, Thursday, March 22nd to hear a panel of experts explain Ojai’s post-Thomas Fire status and explore major environmental concerns of the Ojai Valley.
Panelists Connor Jones, Ojai Permaculture; Jeff Kuyper, Los Padres Forest Watch; Tania Parker, Ojai Valley Land Conservancy; and David Robert White, The Center for Regenerative Agriculture, all spoke to their areas of expertise when answering the following questions:
What is the biggest environmental myth in Ojai?
White: That citrus spraying is necessary.
Parker: That non-native, drought-tolerant plants are as good as native ones.
Jones: That Ojai doesn’t have enough water.
Kuyper: So many myths -- heed what science tells us.
What role did fire play in Ojai’s ecology?
Kuyper: “Chaparral has evolved with fire … but the Thomas Fire was wind and weather driven, not fuel driven (via chaparral).”
Parker: “Fires every 30-150 years is a natural occurrence … (but) less than 20 years apart can eliminate our chaparral landscape.”
How is the ash affecting our soil and water?
Jones: “It varies per fire intensity. Even in areas completely destroyed, ash has left behind huge amounts of minerals … The soil pH has probably risen, but water quality is down. Caustic water hurts fish.”
White: “There’s too much carbon in our air and water.” Fire and ash produce high levels of polycyclic hydrocarbons. Regenerative plants are key. “Plants are natural ‘carb pumps’.”
What is the most effective way to protect homes from fire?
White: “We need to change our approach to building.”
Jones: “Landscaping makes a huge difference. Homes usually burn after landscaping has been destroyed.”
Kuyper: “The guiding principal is to clear: start from your home and work outward … employ fire-wise landscaping.”
Parker: “Create defensible space … learn to adapt (to natural surroundings).”
Should debris flow concern us? What can we do?
Parker: “Yes! We must restore our stream flow. Replace invasive bamboo with native plants to stabilize stream beds. It will take five to seven years to naturally repair and stabilize hillsides.”
What are three things should we plant and three we should remove?
White: “Arrugula, chard and calendula. Also agave, aloe vera, sycamores and oaks. Encourage local plants, remove non-natives.”
Jones: “Carob, olive and nut trees. Reduce demand for monoculture; use tree crops and perennials. Be careful of site locations for homes and plants.”
What are your environmental priorities six months to three years from now?
Parker: “Weed management, infrastructure and trail repair. Longer term goals are to manage invasive plants and expand trails.”
Jones: “Ojai’s water crisis!” Work on water autonomy and proper management. “We have a water management problem, not a scarcity problem.”
Kuyper: “We need to work as a community on our fire safety and fire response. We need to take responsibility for our homes and hold our decision-makers responsible when looking at new building plans and sites. We need to double-down on protecting our wild Ojai.”
White: “Native planting … and connecting the next generation to nature. “
The Ojai Women’s Fund hosted Focus: Our Environment as part of its ongoing series of talks that brings together community experts with Ojai residents to explore pressing needs in the Valley, especially within OWF’s target areas: arts, education, environment, healthcare and social services. OWF’s representatives Therese Hartmann opened the program, Carey Appel served as moderator, and Lisa Casoni provided concluding remarks. OWF extends special thanks to caterer Christine Denney, Rainbow Bridge; sound technician James Antunez, A-Z Musical Services; and photographer Stephen Adams, for contributing their talents to the evening’s success.