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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Five-year results of fire mimicry on oaks in Carmel, CA – Part 2

30 09 2019

Part 2 of this post shows promising results in improving the health of an old coast live oak shown in the preceding post (Part 1) that was severely affected by a stem canker disease, possibly Sudden Oak Death, in 2014. Besides doing fire mimicry treatments I tried (experimentally, as I told the owner) a major surgical procedure that involved removing the infected tissue from the tree. The wound was then strongly cauterized and a mineral-based poultice was applied. One additional surgery to remove lingering infected tissue was done in May 2016. Here are before-and-after photos showing the initial surgical wound immediately after removal of infected tissue, but before cauterization and poultice, and the wound after 5 years.

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While it may not be apparent in the photos, the large wound is showing no sign of lingering infection and it would appear that the disease is eradicated from this critical part of the tree.

At the same time the general health of this oak, as indicated by the foliage density of its canopy, has clearly improved. The following photo shows the canopy density of the two main branches of this oak over the past 5 years. It is too soon to know whether or not this is an exceptional case. But it sure encourages me to try major surgeries on other severely diseased oaks!

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Five-year results of fire mimicry on oaks in Carmel, CA – Part 1

30 09 2019

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Last week I inspected a grove of oaks in Carmel, CA that have received several fire mimicry treatments. While the photos were taken under different light conditions, they do indicate a clear increase in foliage density over the years. However, one oak in this grove was lost earlier this year in a high wind event.

Part 2 of this post will show the results of fire mimicry treatments along with a major stem canker surgery on one of these oaks (see if you can guess which one).

These photos add to mounting evidence that oaks, and many other kinds of trees, need to be tended in order to flourish. As we are now aware, doing nothing is not a viable long-term treatment plan for oaks. See for yourself what can be achieved in just a few years …

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Fire Mimicry Results on Oaks in Pacific Grove, CA

24 09 2019

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Last year I began fire mimicry treatments on 21 oak trees in Pacific Grove, CA. Here are the results after just one year. The light conditions varied between the two years, but the photo comparisons still show a clear increase in canopy density. Enjoy! Read the rest of this entry »





Coast live oaks in Monterey, CA thriving after fire mimicry treatments

2 12 2018

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Today I inspected several sick coast live oaks in Monterey, CA that were treated with fire mimicry one year ago. I’m happy to report that, despite the very dry summer and other factors related to climate change, these sick live oaks are showing clear signs of recover after just one year. Enjoy . . .

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Carmel oaks respond to fire mimicry

13 09 2017

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Three years ago I began treating a grove of mature coast live oaks in Carmel, CA with fire mimicry. Yesterday I checked on their response. As the photos here reveal, most of the oaks show a clear improvement in the leaf density.of their canopies.

I haven’t done a tally on the total number of trees I’ve reported on in the nearly 10 years of hosting this website, but a fair estimate is that it is upwards of 1000 case studies, including oaks, pines, cedars, buckeyes, magnolias, fruit trees, and more. It has been immensely rewarding to witness and report these results, and to demonstrate to all concerned a clear way forward for tending our trees and forests.

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News headline: “California Sudden Oak Death Reaches Catastrophic Levels”

29 10 2016

Yesterday I read a news report with the headline “California Sudden Oak Death reaches catastrophic levels“.

Yesterday I also read a news report “Standing Rock: militarized police from 5 states escalate violence . . .

Now it may seem obscure to most, but these two issues are intimately related. Let me explain how.

The first report states that California is experiencing a crisis in tree mortality with over 66 million dead trees, all attributed to a single disease (Sudden Oak Death) and a single insect pest (Pine Bark Beetle). The report features statements from two experts, a pathologist and an entomologist. Neither scientist mentions a single word about possible solutions.

And to make matters worse, regardless of which way the weather trends, they say that the death of the trees will be exacerbated. More drought will fuel Pine Bark Beetles, and wet weather will favor the spread of Sudden Oak Death. All appears hopeless in any direction.

Now I have no problem highlighting the serious forest health issues we are having in California. Trees are dying and it is affecting us all. The problem I have is that this issue is not reducible to two species of organisms. Even if we could find a cure for Sudden Oak Death and Pine Bark Beetles, the trees would still be dying. There are dozens of other diseases and insect pests that would fill their niches.

When one recognizes that the problems affecting our forests are not pathological or entomological, but are ecological and ethnographical in nature, then solutions become self-evident. California forests that were tended with fire by native people for thousands of years are now declining due to over-competition and soil acidification. Diseases and pests that are normally controlled by fire are now flourishing.

As the Standing Rock protest illustrates, we have lost our connections to the people and practices that gave us such magnificent lands and forests. Honoring our native people by tending to their legacies is one way of supporting all that they live and stand for.

This website is offered as testimony to the promise of traditional values and knowledge in forest health and restoration. Contained here are many hundreds of photos documenting the recovery of sick and diseased trees using solutions based on practices and materials used by native people for thousands of years.

In other news from yesterday – a sick oak that has been treated with traditional practices is making a steady comeback . . .

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