Resilience in the Face of Fire
Saturday, October 22 at 8:00-9:40 am, Pine Room
Session Description: Fire is a fact of life in California. While this natural process is essential for most of our state’s ecosystems, challenges ensue when human infrastructure intersects with wildfire. This session explores the myriad ways that people are working to adapt to life with fire while ensuring that habitats and ecological processes remain intact.
Session Chair: Nick Jensen (California Native Plant Society, Sacramento, CA, USA)
33.1 Pursuing ecologically-rooted “vegetation fuel management” practices with local governments and fire agencies
David Long (Marin Chapter CNPS, FERN [Fire and Environmental Resilience Network], Marin Audubon, and West Marin Environmental Action Committee), Carolyn Longstreth (Marin Chapter CNPS, Fire and Environment Resilience Network, Inverness, CA, USA), Jim Hanson (East Bay Chapter CNPS, Richmond, CA, USA), Neil Havlik (San Luis Obispo County Chapter CNPS, San Luis Obispo, CA, USA)
With climate change driving California’s increased vulnerability to devastating wildfires, local governments and fire agencies throughout the state are ramping up fire prevention vegetation management activities on a large scale. “Vegetation fuel management” treatments often follow a few standard rules but can lack sufficient science and contract specifications to enable native plant community diversity to be maintained or enhanced. This panel discussion outlines some of the ways CNPS Chapters can interact with local governments and fire agencies to bring environmental values to fire prevention vegetation management. Jim Hanson, East Bay Chapter, will describe how the Chapter has reached out to two city fire departments, a large water district, a university, and a regional park district to observe current practices and promote some simple ways to sustain local native plant community diversity as part of a long-term strategy for fire resiliency. David Long, Marin Chapter, will explain how, after Marin voters approved and funded a new county fire protection authority in 2020, environmental organizations worked together to establish an ongoing dialog with the fire authority and develop ecologically sound practices to guide the agency’s vegetation management projects. Carolyn Longstreth, Marin Chapter, will demystify the CalFire Vegetation Management Program (CalVTP) and discuss its usefulness in advocating for environmental values in vegetation management projects for fire prevention. Neil Havlik will provide a background on the San Luis Obispo Chapter’s involvement in fire treatment projects and proposals in the Cambria Monterey Pine Forest and focus on efforts to address concerns with the project, especially as it moves toward implementation.
33.2 Wildfire-associated changes on existing and future vegetation communities and weeds in Point Reyes National Seashore
Lorraine Parsons (Point Reyes National Seashore, CA, USA), Rachel Hendrickson (Point Reyes National Seashore, CA, USA)
Wildfires have become larger and more frequent, severe, and devastating, fueled by the increasingly unpredictable climatic conditions associated with climate change. Climate changes have also made vegetation recovery following wildfires more unpredictable. In some cases, climate-related changes in frequency and severity of fires are spurring long-term changes in life form (i.e., tree- to shrub-dominated) or type conversion (i.e., chaparral to sage scrub). Habitats along California’s immediate coast may be buffered to some extent from the brunt of the climate change-associated warming predicted for inland areas of California due to the moderating influence of the ocean. In 2020, Point Reyes National Seashore had its largest burn in 25 years, with 4,841 acres of forest/woodland and, to a much lesser extent, coastal scrub/chaparral burned. While 2,000 acres previously burned in 1996, the remainder had not burned in more than 75 years. In 2021, park staff developed a plot-based vegetation community program and modified Early Detection Rapid Response approach to assess effects of the fire on vegetation existing prior to the fire and to evaluate species composition and regeneration post-fire. Establishment and spread of target invasives are monitored more intensively through repeat surveys, and then weeds are prioritized for removal. Despite two years of drought conditions, native species in burned areas are rebounding, with seedling recruitment patterns suggesting both community replacement and potential type or lifeform conversions in the future in certain areas. Alternatively, drought appears to have at least initially dampened weed establishment and spread, although that could change in future years, as weed issues often worsen in Year 2 post-fire. The park anticipates complementing plot-based monitoring with assessment of landscape-level changes in vegetation communities 5- 7 years post-fire using photointerpretation of high-resolution aerial imagery.
33.3 Effect of prescribed fire and mechanical disturbance on the diversity of soil fungi in a mixed coniferous forest of the western Sierra Nevada
Taylor Fay Akers (California State University, Sacramento, CA, USA)
Disturbance is an ecological process, a force that alters the physical structure of ecosystems. Fire is a type of disturbance, one that influences the function of communities by directly removing biomass, resulting in the mortality and rearrangement of organisms. Fire of low-moderate intensity is understood to promote the diversity of native plant communities, when applied to the landscape with a frequency that is suited to the evolutionary history of a particular ecoregion. In the past two centuries of Euro-American colonization and settlement in California, indigenous burning practices have been severely repressed and modern land managers have actively suppressed fire of all types. This altered fire regime has amplified the negative consequences of anthropogenic climate change, resulting in native plant communities that are less diverse, less resilient and are subject to high intensity wildfires. In companionship with our native plants, communities of soil fungi are also impacted by changes of fire regime. Soil fungi, including several functional groups, are responsible for nutrient cycling, soil formation, water retention, seedling development and many other biological processes. The objective of my study is to understand how intentional low-moderate intensity fire influences the structure and function of soil fungi in a mixed coniferous forest. This summer, I collected 144 soil samples from 12 stands within the Blodgett experimental forest. Each stand was randomly assigned to one of four treatments: fire only, mechanical thinning only, thinning followed by fire, and unmanaged control. I hypothesize that soil fungal diversity and community composition will differ between the management practices and certain functional groups of fungi will dominate within each disturbance regime. I anticipate that my findings will help guide management decisions to increase the diversity and resilience of our California native plant communities.
33.4 Saving the Champion Oak from Wildfire and Post-fire Recovery
Dr. Tim Krantz (Professor Emeritus, University of Redlands; Conservation Director, Botanic Garden Director, The Wildlands Conservancy, Oak Glen, CA, USA)
The Champion Oak—a canyon live oak (Quercus chrysolepis) determined to be the largest of any oak species in the United States—was threatened by recent wildfires in the Oak Glen area of the San Bernardino Mountains. As a result of the heroic efforts of a California Department of Corrections fire crew, composed of incarcerated people, the tree was spared one wildfire, only to be ravaged by another a month later. This presentation tells the story of the Champion’s miraculous survival and the resurrection and recovery of the burn area two years later.
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