[pct-l] Burned area recovery

Mike Saenz msaenz at mve-architects.com
Wed Aug 16 11:42:35 CDT 2006

Glad to know the oaks will recover phoenix-like from the ashes.
It was just real sad to see the flames rolling through the branches,
completely engulfing the trees.

You see this all the time on the news, but seeing it from just a few
yards away was disturbing. 

There are much deeper oak groves tucked into the canyons of Tejon Ranch
that I'm sure got burned. I'm glad I didn't have to see that.

One of my favorite pieces of trail are the oak groves between Morena and
Mt Laguna and through Warner Springs. I love walking through and camping
in oaks!

Michael Saenz ,  Associate Partner
McLarand    Vasquez    Emsiek   &   Partners,   Inc.
A r c h i t e c t u r e  |  P l a n n i n g  |  I n t e r i o r s
MVE          MVE    Institutional         MVE    S t u d i o
w  w  w   .   m  v  e   -   a  r  c  h  i  t  e  c  t  s   .   c  o m

-----Original Message-----
From: pct-l-bounces at backcountry.net
[mailto:pct-l-bounces at backcountry.net] On Behalf Of
cmkudija at earthlink.net
Sent: Wednesday, August 16, 2006 9:15 AM
To: Richard Woods; pct-l at backcountry.net
Subject: Re: [pct-l] Burned area recovery

Rick is right, too.  However, I was referring specifically to the _oaks_
Mike mentioned, which are more or less in my neighborhood, about 30
miles north, and in the vicinity of the Tejon Ranch where the new/old
PCT route will go.  California oaks, walnuts, sycamores - generally
broadleaf evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs in the chaparral -
are adapted to periodic fire.  From what I've heard of THIS fire, it's
not the hot, intense kind that sterilizes the soil and forms a
hydrophobic barrier that inhibits seed germination.  In _this_ case, the
oaks are more than likely to have all their present foliage and smaller
branches and twigs burned completely.  In about a month or two, new
shoots will emerge from the blackened trunks, and eventually form new
branch structures.  I've observed this in a canyon where I regularly
hike, which burned to a moonscape in the fall of '03.
EVERYTHING there was just soot and ashes - and the fires had been
incredibly hot, exacerbated by hot weather.  There was discussion at
that time of vegetation not coming back the way it should, hydrophobic
soil layers, etc,
etc, etc.   Well, what happened was what I described above - and last
summer, trail maintenance involved clearing huge mustard stems from the
trail margins with loppers (I did my share - it was fun!).  Most of the
oaks, walnuts, sycamores, and other chaparral shrubs are happily growing
new foliage, with only those on high, exposed ridges having succumbed to
the fires.

Conifers are different - e.g. the 1993 Rainbow fire area near Mammoth
(not decades ago - 13 years).  Conifers, with some exceptions, aren't
fire adapted in the same way oaks are (where the parent tree survives
the fire and new shoots arise from dormant nodes in the trunk).
Instead, they may have cones that require high heat to "open" and shed
their seeds, or seed coats that require fire or abrasion to permit water
to enter and thus germinate, or simply open areas in the forest to allow
sunlight in for new growth to occur.  All that's happening in the
Rainbow Fire area; it's just a slower process than post-fire chaparral

I hiked through there in the summer of '94.  There were chest-high
lupines carpeting the forest floor, creating a stunning contrast to the
burned tree trunks.  Lupines are legumes, and enjoy a relationship with
nitrogen-fixing bacteria in nodules in their roots.  The bacteria
actually take in atmospheric nitrogen (a necessary plant nutrient) and
fix it in the soil,
helping new plant growth.   I hiked through there last fall, and was
surprised that there wasn't more vegetation, and I did notice
substantial erosion processes - but the soil there is loose,
fast-draining volcanic tuff, and it's a more difficult environment for a
new forest to develop.
Not as much water is available in the soil during the growing season,
because the soil won't hold it - consequently it's likely going to take
longer for that forest to recover, even with the substantial winter
this area receives.   Knees willing, I'll be hiking through there again
in a
couple of weeks, and get to see what changes have occurred this year.

Can you tell I'm an optimist about Nature's ability to recover?  I
grieve when humans start horrific fires and do other things to trash our
environment and our beloved PCT, but yet I'm basically optimistic -
don't know why.

Christine "Ceanothus" Kudija , trail optimist PCT partially '94

Join Now!

Ceanothus (see-ah-no-thus) or California lilac:  Shrubs or small trees,
often with divaricate, sometimes spiny, twigs...[flowers] small but
showy, white to blue or purplish, sometimes lavender or pinkish, borne
in terminal or lateral panicles or umbellike cymes.
                                                               Philip A.
California Flora, U.C. Press, 1973

-----Original Message-----
From: pct-l-bounces at backcountry.net
[mailto:pct-l-bounces at backcountry.net]On
Behalf Of Richard Woods
Sent: Tuesday, August 15, 2006 3:22 PM
To: pct-l at backcountry.net
Subject: [pct-l] Burned area recovery

Well, right in some cases.
If there is not much of a fuel load around the tree, then a grass or
brush fire just 'takes out the trash' so to speak, passing through
quickly without heating the tree and the ground too deeply. Plants and
critters can survive underground or by getting out of the way.
You'll see blackened tree trunks for a few years, but most of the burn
scars will disappear within a year or two. The up side is the incredible
flowers the following spring, and the speed with which the ecology
springs back to life with all the added nutrients suddenly returned to
the soil.
Here comes the big qualification.
When fire does NOT take out the trash often enough (chance or fire
suppression) the fuel load gets heavy enough to create a really hot,
intense fire, such as crown fires in heavy timber. That type of fire is
death to a forest for decades to come. That is the kind of fire that
sterilizes the ground and kills the root systems of conifers which are
generally shallowly rooted.  Everything burns. Every seed, every
critter, every root, even the soil bacteria.
A classic example is the burn area just south of Reds Meadow. You pass
through an area of black tree trunks for about a mile. That fire burned
decades ago, and the area is only now being repopulated by brush and
grasses. There is almost no vegetable matter in the soil, except what
has blown in from the outside. Therefore, no soil bacteria, nothing to
hold moisture in, no way for a normal forest ecology to survive except
in little spots where enough decaying plant material has gathered in one
spot to support a mini-oasis in that moonscape.

I don't feel bad about natural fires passing through, no matter how much
it disrupts my personal plans. If I plan to be in an area when a fire is
passing through, that's just the luck of the draw. We should get nervous
when a fire doesn't pass through an area every decade or so.

On Aug 15, 2006, at 10:00 AM, pct-l-request at backcountry.net wrote:

Christine is right. There was a fire in 1910 on Mount Si in WA. The bark
is still shows evident's of the fire on one side. That's almost 100
years. Of course we have tougher hides up here in the great North West.


Mike,Don't worry too much about the oaks.  Most of 'em will  survive the
fire, and in five years, you won't be able to tell (at least  from the
oaks) that a fire had passed through.  It *will* look like a  moonscape
for a while, but oaks have a remarkable capability to sprout new  shoots
from many dormant
nodes along their branches post-fire.     The bark is burned, but the
layer - the living part of the trunk  and branches - is still alive
inside, where it counts.

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