Rim Fire: What's Next (ecologically)?

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Crazy Bat

Sport climber
Birmingham, AL & Seweanee, TN
Sep 10, 2013 - 03:48pm PT
I can't answer the original question. I was in the area in July. Somewhere in the "Hyw 120 is closed" thread there was a map showing where previous fires had burned and when. I'm a biologist from the east and wondered about several of the different plant communities I had seen. After seeing the map I had a gut level understanding of some of the different plant communities.

mechrist

Gym climber
South of Heaven
Sep 10, 2013 - 03:52pm PT
yep, even "certified weed free" straw ain't weed free.

The gf just spent 14 days as a READ, mostly flagging weeds so the dozers didn't spread them. It was up in Humboldt, so she also identified plenty of weed, hopefully preveting the firefighters from accidentally "burning out."

Ron, seeding success in SE Elko is significant... but a dozen sites across the west (each with at least 3 treatments and one control) and a synthesis of the available studies is laughable? Idiot.
mechrist

Gym climber
South of Heaven
Sep 10, 2013 - 04:01pm PT
Here is a positive tip for you Ron, cut and paste the url into the address bar on your browser. I know you can do it, you are smart like that.
mongrel

Trad climber
Truckee, CA
Sep 10, 2013 - 04:45pm PT
On the more general topic of postfire seeding, the summary note at the url posted above has a few key bits in it that emphasize why, in most respects, you can't just generalize all good or all bad.

The one most consistent finding is that, in the arid West, seeding is almost never effective in controlling erosion of upland areas. This principle holds not only for post-fire, but generally for disturbed soils. You can sometimes get a nice photo-op of a lot of green, but in reality our climates (and there are multiple, even within the arid West) do not support the level of vegetation cover of pioneer species that is necessary to control erosion. You have to achieve that by other means that are impossible and/or prohibitively expensive from the air (there are significant ecological downsides to those fancy expensive sprayed mulches too). Running equipment on recently burned soils is just about the absolute worst possible thing you can do with respect to erosion control.

The summary at firescience.gov makes it clear they're talking about treatments from 1970-2006. It would be a lot more valuable if they subdivided the papers they're summarizing by time period and what was in the seed mixes. It's not very relevant what happens from seeding non-native annual grasses, because that's not what's usually happening nowadays. Then there's an item (and I haven't gone back to the originals, though one would want to) to the effect that, about half of the reported cases of seeding to prevent takeover by weeds, it was effective, and the other half, it wasn't. What I would love to know is, what, if anything that we can discern, differentiates between the sites and treatments where this worked and the ones where it didn't? Even if it was 90 percent ineffective but 10 percent effective, why did those work? That's where the potential progress lies.

For my part, I've seen postfire sites in the Great Basin where seeding didn't do sh!t, and others where it was really beneficial. You really need to burrow into every last detail to learn from this. For example, seeds of some of the shrub species that you might judge to be highly desirable, like sagebrush and rabbitbrush, are really tiny and have very limited period of viability. Everything can be just perfect only if your sagebrush seed is older than it should be, it's a flop. My beef about seizing on failures and successes is lack of these tiny details that make all the difference. Was the sagebrush really the subspecies that it should be for your site? Can you trust that supplier? What did the label tag say about weed content, not just percentage, but species? If you already have cheat grass, well, maybe a half percent of it isn't that big of a deal in some otherwise desirable seed. But in a cheat grass free area, it's zero tolerance. And so on. Details are the whole thing.
mechrist

Gym climber
South of Heaven
Sep 10, 2013 - 05:02pm PT
mongrel, those are good questions... but reveal a bit of idealistic thinking. No way in hell you are going to find a source of native, locally adapted seed that comes anywhere close to covering the areas that would need to be covered for most post-fire restoration. I know some ecologists throughout the west who have collected seed mixes for specific restoration projects (fens, meadows, native plant gardens, etc). It is labor intensive and tricky for many of the reasons you point out (viability with age, weed free, etc). The notion of doing that for post-fire restoration is pretty far fetched... but doing it for my yard works pretty well!!!
slidingmike

climber
CA
Sep 10, 2013 - 06:39pm PT
I can see it now: a new forest of poison oak!
Kalimon

Social climber
Ridgway, CO
Sep 10, 2013 - 09:57pm PT
Ron do you perhaps mean Ceanothus?
Dingus Milktoast

Gym climber
And every fool knows, a dog needs a home, and...
Sep 10, 2013 - 10:10pm PT
Prediction - despite doomsaying to the contrary, I think the Tuolumne River forest will regrow itself just fine. Certain species may migrate upslope upon re-establishement due to a warmer climate. But that forest was made to burn and made to grow itself back again.

I learned this in chaparral country, which has a much shorter burn-to-mature fire cycle - its easy to look at a charred landscape and feel despair. Its so easy maybe 10,000 years of civilization has it hard-wired into us. But you don't have to look at it like destruction, because IT IS NOT!

In the coming months and years, take note of the life as it returns instead of dwelling on what was lost. Watch the annuals come in and the herbs and other understory plants. And watch the deer return with them!

And in a few seasons you'll see your first saplings. Stop and go look at them! Take some pictures, pick one out and resist the urge to interfere, but document it for a few years, watch it grow.

I did this on Fiske Peak, a coast range area repeatedly burned over the last decade (by a fire bug volunteer fireman! Who was finally caught) - this landscape of ours comes back fast. We won't see 100 year old mature trees replacing the ones that burnt, make no mistake. But we will see THOSE TREES that will make their 100 year mark.

Try it. As it rolls around perhaps we can have a thread here to celebrate the new awakening, and even in its charred slumber the landscape is alive with life and vitality.

Cheers
DMT
mechrist

Gym climber
South of Heaven
Sep 10, 2013 - 10:22pm PT
atch the annuals come in and the herbs and other understory plants.

I don't doubt your plant knowledge Dingus, but how many of the above mentioned weeds can you readily id in the field?
TGT

Social climber
So Cal
Sep 10, 2013 - 10:52pm PT
Ten years after the 2000 Manter Fire.

Domelands 2010


Credit: TGT

Credit: TGT

Credit: TGT

What was once one of the most beautiful campsites in the S Sierras. <br/>
...
What was once one of the most beautiful campsites in the S Sierras.

(and it wasn't the two dirtbags that ruined it!)
Credit: TGT
wilbeer

Mountain climber
honeoye falls,ny.greeneck alleghenys
Sep 10, 2013 - 10:56pm PT
DMT is right.
Have you ever been to yellowstone before the fire and then years later too see the rebound .

Truly amazing.
mongrel

Trad climber
Truckee, CA
Sep 10, 2013 - 11:57pm PT
Mechrist, no, the things I mentioned are not idealistic at all, in fact, they are precisely what I do for all seedings I've specified or otherwise collaborated on, and other people I know do it too. The whole cycle, from contracting for collection, through storage, choosing supplemental species from the supplier's stocks by reviewing the provenance and full label data (germination rates, date of collection, weed percentage and composition). This is exactly what you do in order to do good revegetation, and I'm nowhere near the only person who does it this way. So, it's not true that paying attention to those details is idealistic. The seed suppliers have all this data in their computers, you just ask, and they e-mail it right over.

You leaped ahead to a totally different topic, namely, native seed and how much of it one can get. There, I totally agree with you: it's impossible to come up with adequate quantities for revegetating these enormous fires in the sagebrush or in conifer forest, and it's why I think generally aerial seeding isn't a practical, effective technique. But maybe some in specific instances it is, and for those we ought to advance the science of how to get them to be maximally effective.

Then there's the point about locally adapted seed. I personally think a lot of the concern about this is overblown. In special cases, like maybe Tahoe, I can see there might possibly be a point, but for species that range all the way north and south in the Sierra, for example, there's probably so much gene flow that the idea of local adaptation is pretty speculative. I'd prefer not to source, say, ponderosa pine from the Rockies to use in California, but from just about anywhere in California it'll be good enough. In the Great Basin, the degree of local adaption of, say, big sagebrush, is probably pretty limited. Seed from anywhere in Nevada will be fine anywhere else in that state. Stuff from eastern Idaho, not so sure, the climate truly is pretty different there.

Actually, for long-lived species like trees, it's probably preferable to revegetate with a mixture of different genotypes as Ron suggests, just in case there's one or another ecological change that's hard on one of your source genotypes. I just don't think area-specific needs to be all that narrow of an area.

Collecting seed specifically for postfire restoration is difficult to infeasible for exactly the reasons everyone has mentioned. But it's predictable that there will be a few hundred thousand acres of burns every year, it WOULD be technically feasible to regularly collect (or produce in seed farms) stuff they we know we'll use almost every year. But that's truly idealistic: agency resource folks get battered from all sides if they try to take forward-thinking actions.

And don't get me started on the waste of many many millions on expensive mulches sprayed from the air, like they do in LA....
mechrist

Gym climber
South of Heaven
Sep 11, 2013 - 12:09am PT
Sorry mongrel, I thought you mentioned native seeds. I don't envy the work you do... honestly, I hate plant id and latin.
Chaz

Trad climber
greater Boss Angeles area
Sep 11, 2013 - 11:55am PT
The next step is to close all the climbing areas. See "Station Fire" for the blueprint.
The user formerly known as stzzo

climber
Sneaking up behind you
Sep 11, 2013 - 11:58am PT
Look at the PELICAN FIRE of 78. The one that burned around the Phantom spires. Ceanothus is the rule not the exception. Miles of brush, and little/ no reproduction of trees..

Maybe a planting party is in order.
mongrel

Trad climber
Truckee, CA
Sep 11, 2013 - 04:34pm PT
There certainly are quite a few examples of non-recovery of original vegetation after fires. We have one right in Truckee, some 40 years old, that's still mostly ceanothus and hasn't succeeded back into conifers. But there are counter-examples too - including some that are also right in Truckee, where Jeffrey pine grew back with or without planting. Why they differ, I don't think anyone has really tried to answer. But there are other factors that may be important elsewhere, specifically that the end of the Little Ice Age (cooler, more mesic conditions in montane regions) was roughly 1850. That's the climatic regime that prevailed when the Comstock-logged forest got established. So some marginal areas were probably due to gradually convert to P-J with or without logging or fire. Plus, there was a lot of livestock grazing which is a factor (regardless of what plants they're eating). It's not at all simple, and I agree with Ron that some of these places are not likely to support vigorous pine forest ever again, even if planted. Well, maybe pinyon.

The cheat grass that has taken over millions of acres is a real issue, regardless of the combination of causes (not just fire). In the Tahoe area, plenty of formerly cheat grass free areas are now infested due to use of fertilizer and compost in restoration projects, so the very category of actions that are represented as being beneficial is doing a lot of harm depending on how it's done. It's a huge problem and there isn't an easy answer that I know of.
Nkane

Trad climber
San Francisco, USA
Topic Author's Reply - Sep 19, 2013 - 02:10pm PT
http://www.sfgate.com/news/science/article/Nearly-40-percent-of-Rim-Fire-land-a-moonscape-4826561.php#photo-5204761

New info on the extent of damage!

Any comments?
klk

Trad climber
cali
Sep 19, 2013 - 02:43pm PT
baer's preliminary report on on previously fire-treated areas (fuel breaks, prescribed burns areas, mechanical thinning) suggests that treated areas tended to burn far less severely.

a few, like the pine mt break and the stuff at grower's, made it easier for fighters to occupy and hold that ground and save stuff.

way too early for more than impressionistic reports. but the map is useful for showing previous areas of treatment--

http://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5436551.pdf

klk

Trad climber
cali
Sep 19, 2013 - 03:02pm PT
the grim thing is that we have a good picture of the spot with the worst burn intensitites, and it's right up the clavey.

compare the two maps from the baer team. the first shows preliminary assessment of burn intensity:

http://www.inciweb.org/incident/maps/3726/


the second, linked in my other post, shows ares of previous firet treatment (prescribed burns, mechanical thinning, wildland fire).

the maps both center on the clavey. there isn't easy access to that part of the drainage, it's steep and rough, and the rains are coming. much of it is in what seems like the lower part of the pine range these days. even if they get enough seed and teams, and even if the soil isnt sterilized, i see very little hope that this isn't going to be really, really f*#ked up.

one of my favorite spots in the frickin country. prolly the last indigenous trout in the sierra.

Dingus Milktoast

Gym climber
And every fool knows, a dog needs a home, and...
Sep 19, 2013 - 04:25pm PT
The climate has changed.

Repeat - the climate HAS CHANGED. Fire doesn't prevent the regrets of a forest, climate change certainly can however.

Dome lands? The climate has changed in the last 10,000 years, markedly so. Same for the basin and range, same for the. Clavey canyon bottom lands.

Manzanita may replace ponderosa, ponderosa may replace firs.... Weeds may replace manzanita, quine sabe?
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