Living with fire: The fire ecology of the Central Coast

28 11 2018

On Thursday, December 6, 2018 I’ll be presenting and discussing the fire ecology of the Central Coast at the Santa Cruz Public Library (224 Church St.) starting at 6:30 pm. Topics will include the California native people’s use of fire in land management, modern fire regimes, fire mimicry, and the role of climate change. For more information on this free event see: https://www.santacruzpl.org/news/permalink/793/

Big Sur 2008 fire

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Saving the redwoods with fire mimicry in Oakland, CA

28 10 2018

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Two years ago I began treating these coast redwood trees growing in Oakland, CA using a fire mimicry protocol. Here are the results. The redwoods are showing noticeable improvement in canopy size and density after only two years.

Saving the redwoods isn’t just about keeping them from being cut down. It also requires that we tend them, as the California native people did for thousands of years!

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Coast live oaks in Piedmont, CA after 3 years of fire mimicry . . .

18 10 2018

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Yesterday I inspected a grove of coast live oaks, some of them Indian-era (pollarded) trees, to assess their response after 3 years of fire mimicry treatments. The photos here show a pretty dramatic increase in canopy greenness and fullness.

Just curious – are the results and information I post here useful to any of you readers? I’m not much of an IT person and would rather focus on working in the woods, but people keep saying that blogs and social media are the best way to share this information. I dunno, I don’t get many visitors to the blog and almost never a comment. Anyone with an opinion on whether or not these results are useful, please feel free to like or comment.

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Do lichens play a role in oak decline?

20 07 2018
Lichens in tree

(image downloaded from web June 2013)

Any careful observer of oaks in California cannot help but notice a dense covering of lichens growing on the trunks and branches of many of the trees. In some cases, the biomass of lichens in the canopy rivals and even exceeds the biomass of the oak foliage. Under extreme conditions of lichen cover, the oaks appear sickly and in decline.

Lichens in oak

Coast live oaks covered in epiphytic Usnea and Ramalina lichens. (February 2018, Aptos, CA)

There is a popular meme in naturalist and conservation circles that lichens do not harm trees and merely use them for support. Adherents to this ‘harmless lichen’ meme point out that lichens are photosynthetic and, thus, do not draw any resources from the trees. Some note that lichens support nitrogen-fixing bacteria, which can add to the nutrient pool and benefit the trees. Furthermore, lichens are known to be highly sensitive to air pollution, so the presence of abundant lichens in a tree is a sign of good local air quality.

I have long been doubtful about the science behind this meme. As an experienced researcher of forest decline I have frequently noted that sick and dying trees often have a dense growth of lichens in their canopies. Defenders of the ‘harmless lichen’ meme describe this as the opportunistic growth of lichens on sick trees, as the reduced foliage allows for additional light for the lichens to grow. It is certainly true that lichens benefit from sick trees in this way, but I believe that lichens are not merely innocent bystanders or benefactors in the demise of a tree. Read the rest of this entry »





Portola Valley oaks respond quickly to fire mimicry

1 03 2018
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Culturally-modified, Native American-era oak showing rapid improvement after fire mimicry.

Last February (2017) I treated and photographed 25 coast live oaks in Portola Valley using fire mimicry practices. A couple days ago I revisited the site and re-photographed the oaks to assess their response. The results show noticeable improvements in the density and greenness of the canopies of most of the treated oaks in just one year. This is becoming a common finding in many of the case studies – that the positive response of the oaks to fire mimicry appears to be rapid.

These results are part of a significant body of evidence showing that oaks and other trees can be brought back to health using fairly simple methods that mimic the effects of fire. If you care to learn more about these methods, please enroll in my upcoming course, “Sudden Oak Life: The Science and Practice of Forest Restoration”.

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Upcoming talk – “The cultural modification of trees and forests by California’s Native Peoples”

4 11 2017
CMT madrone

Culturally modified madrone tree in Big Sur, CA

In January 2018 I will be giving a talk “The cultural modification of trees and forests by California’s Native Peoples“, co-sponsored by the Sempervirens Fund and REI. Details of the talk are here. The talk is free but you will need to sign up through Eventbrite. Hope to see you there!

 





Oaks in Marin respond to fire mimicry

24 03 2017

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On Monday I checked on three coast live oaks trees in Marin County, CA that I’ve been treating with fire mimicry for several years. The first case study (above and below photos) shows the recovery of a large oak after five years of ongoing  fire mimicry treatments. The canopy of this oak is clearly lusher and denser compared to the time of initial treatment.

To remind the reader, fire mimicry treatments are based on traditional forest management practices used by past and present native people in California and elsewhere. The treatments focus on creating habitat and soil conditions favorable for oaks and other native trees.

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(Note that the pine tree behind this oak has since been removed.)

The next case study is a large coast live oak that has received ongoing fire mimicry treatments for three years, as well as several surgical procedures on stem cankers. When I first examined this oak it was severely defoliated and had several small stem cankers (possibly Sudden Oak Death disease) in the trunk. I told the owner that I was not sure the oak could be saved, but he insisted I try. It appears that the owner’s insistence has paid off. The oak has shown a noticeable improvement in canopy lushness and density (see photo sets below). Read the rest of this entry »