Fire Mimicry Step 1 – Clearing, thinning, and pruning

27 05 2020


The iconic oak woodlands of California are the result of thousands of years of tending by the various native tribes. They put fire to the land regularly, in places every year or two, to create open, park-like conditions under which the oaks and other keystone species could thrive. As the native people were forced from their lands by western settlers the healthy ground fires that sustained the oaks ended. Now our oak woodlands have become overgrown by shrubs and small trees, and dead wood has piled up on the forest floor. The soils have become acidified and mosses and lichens have built up to unhealthy levels.

While cultural burning is still happening in a few places, most of the oak woodlands can no longer be burned due to the heavy buildup of fuel. The only hope to save these ecosystems is to introduce fire mimicry.

These past few days I have been implementing the first steps of fire mimicry on an ancient Ohlone Costanoan oak woodland in Aptos, California. This involves clearing most of the woody understory (including literally tons of poison oak), thinning young trees, removing dead and dying trees, and pruning the lower branches of the mature oaks. These photos show the progress after only two days of work with a hardy crew of four. We also started to amend the soils with compost tea and alkaline-rich fertilizers, and apply a limewash to trunks to control the mosses and lichens. Stay tuned …


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Fire mimicry results with Lebanese cedar, sycamore, redwood, and coast live oaks

7 05 2020


Several years ago I began fire mimicry treatments on some Lebanese cedar, sycamore, coast redwood, and coast live oak trees in Los Altos, CA. The before-and-after photos  shown here indicate that the treatments were effective in improving the health of the trees.


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Recovery of a coast redwood after construction damage

6 05 2020

In 2011 I was approached by a land owner who wanted to do construction around the base of a coast redwood. About a quarter of the root system of the tree would have to be removed in the process. I advised fire mimicry treatment of the tree prior to excavation, and follow up treatments afterwards. I told him that the tree would likely show a decreased canopy following the root damage, but that with proper care it could recover.  The owner agreed to my plan, so I treated the redwood before construction, and several years post construction. The repeat photo series below shows the progress of the recovery over that past 9 years. This is a fine example of the great resilience of redwoods!