Ailing oaks in Big Sur respond to fire mimicry

5 02 2020

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Two years ago I began fire mimicry treatments on a grove of sick coast live oaks in Big Sur, CA. Most of the oaks have responded well, including several that underwent surgical removal of bleeding stem cankers (probably Sudden Oak Death). Here are the before-and-after photos of the treated oaks. Note the photos are the same date, time of day, and light conditions as original photos.

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A Decade of Fire Mimicry

30 12 2019
Oak dieback

Dead an dying coast live oak trees in Big Sur, CA

The past decade has been a tough one on California oaks. Tens of thousands of oaks have died and many more are in distress, simply because they are no longer being tended. For millennia the Indigenous People of California used, and still use, fire to improve the health of the native trees and forests.

Also over the past decade I and others have been tasked with restoring to health many of these oaks. During this time we have tended well over 1,000 oaks and other trees, with mostly positive, if not remarkable, results. Due to the severely overgrown nature of fire-suppressed forests, applying fire is not an immediate option. Therefore, we have been developing tending practices that mimic fire in ways that benefit the oaks.

Below are a selection of oaks, one per year of this past decade, that have inspired me to stay committed to tending our oaks. Many of these are legacies of the indigenous past and will, with our help, continue to be legacies in our future.

A decade of healing oaks . . .

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Hearst Castle oak – 2010

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Fairfax oak – 2011

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Fire mimicry results from Boulder Creek, CA

15 12 2019

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Last December I gave a talk at the Santa Cruz Public Library on “Living With Fire”. One of the participants asked me to apply the fire mimicry treatments I described on their oaks in Boulder Creek, CA. Here are the results after one year. Note that some of the oaks were diseased, including one that did not survive. Otherwise, most of the oaks are showing a positive response to the treatments.

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Fire Mimicry: Treated vs. Untreated

8 12 2019

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As most of my clients chose to have me treat all of their oaks with fire mimicry, I don’t often get the chance to compare treated vs. untreated oaks in the same landscape setting. However, last year a client had me treat come oaks, but not the others. Here are the before-and-after photos of two oaks that were treated (above), compared to another that was not treated (below). One of the above oaks (Case No. 20181203.2) was infected with a stem canker disease (probably Sudden Oak Death), which was surgically removed in 2018.

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Oaks treated with fire mimicry fully recover from heavy wind damage in <1 yr

15 11 2019

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In late February of this year a severe wind storm hit the coast of Big Sur and damaged many trees, including a large grove of coast live oaks I began treating with fire mimicry last year. I re-photographed many of the oaks at the time and could clearly see the loss of leaves in the oak canopies, compared to last fall. The photo sets above show how heavily some of the oaks were damaged.

The photos below show how these and many other oaks that sustained damage in the February storm recovered in just 8 months! Most are looking even healthier than they appeared last fall. It may well be that fire mimicry treatments have aided in the recovery of these oaks.

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Culturally-modified Indian-era oaks respond to fire mimicry

15 11 2019

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Five years ago I began fire mimicry treatments on a grove of ancient, Indian-era coast live oaks that have clear signs of being culturally modified (ie. pollarded). This past week I checked on the status of these oaks and the entire grove continues to show strong improvement in canopy density and greenness. And in an area of rapidly spreading Sudden Oak Death, none of these trees have contracted this disease.

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Ancient oaks in Big Sur respond to fire mimicry

12 11 2019

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Last year I began fire mimicry treatments on a large grove of ancient coast live oaks in Big Sur. Many of these oaks were culturally modified several hundred years ago by the Esselen Indians. Several of the largest oaks have clear signs of being pollarded, as shown in the photo below.

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Culturally modified coast live oak in Big Sur, CA.

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