Fire mimicry reverses decline in coast redwoods

30 09 2018


As I’ve discussed  previously (here), coast redwoods in many areas are showing symptoms of dieback, typically beginning towards the top and progressing downward. Drought and disease have been implicated in the redwood decline, but the true cause remains elusive. I suspect the decline is ultimately related to the altered fire ecology.

In October 2016 I applied fire mimicry treatments to a grove of coast redwoods in Alamo, CA that were in decline. Here are the results after two years.

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Fire mimicry results from Mill Valley and Los Altos, CA

8 03 2018



The first two photo sets above are of an oak in Mill Valley, CA that I began treating 5 years ago using fire mimicry. This oak has made significant improvement, as was already documented two years ago here.

The photo sets below are of three coast live oaks, and two coast redwood trees first treated with fire mimicry last year (2017). The first of the series shows a young coast live oak that has lost some leaf density in its canopy. This is an atypical result which may be corrected with further treatments. The other photos sets show an ancient, Native American-era coast live oak that is showing significant improvement in canopy density in just one year. Another mature coast live oak, despite having a major limb removed, is showing slight improvement. And two coast redwood trees are also showing slight improvement in just one year.


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Decline in redwood trees abated with fire mimicry

7 09 2013


Last year I was contacted by the owners of a property in Fremont, CA with numerous redwoods that had been in decline for several years. Previous to my involvement, various conventional tree service companies and experts had tried helping the trees, but to no avail. Their recommendation was to remove the sick redwoods. Fortunately, the owners were reluctant to cut down the redwood trees and decided to ask for my help.

Upon my inspection of the redwoods I found evidence of soil acidification and nutrient depletion. The owners followed my recommendations for fire mimicry treatments involving moss removal, soil mineral amendments, and compost tea.

Here are the results after just one year. Most, although not all, of the sick redwood trees are showing noticeable improvement in canopy density. None of the redwoods appear to be exhibiting further decline. Note that in photo set 20120912.2 below, the redwood tree on the left was removed during the past year. It was the one redwood I felt could not be revived with treatments.

20120912.3 Read the rest of this entry »

Oakland oaks get a reprieve from the chainsaws

27 02 2013
Healthy grove of oaks in Oakland slated for removal.

Healthy grove of oaks in Oakland slated for removal (January 2013)

As is evident in the city’s name, Oakland was named for the large area of oak woodland that originally grew in the region back when it was settled. These days, however, most of original oaks have died or been removed, and those that do remain are mostly limited to the Oakland hills. So it seems baffling why the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) would want to remove a flourishing oak grove from its lands within the city of Oakland.

Yet that is exactly the situation I came across last month when a friend contacted me about a large oak grove near her home in Oakland that had been slated for removal by EBMUD.  At that time the removal of the trees was imminent. My concerned friend who lives near the oak grove requested I come assess the situation. She felt, based on photographs she had taken, that the oak grove was not in poor health, as was suggested in a consulting firm’s report to EBMUD. The report, written in August of 2010, stated that several oaks were showing signs of the sudden oak death pathogen or were otherwise in poor health, and that the majority of the oaks should be removed. About 50 trees, mostly oaks, but also some redwood, cedar, and pine trees, were recommended and eventually marked for removal. Read the rest of this entry »

Carmel trees respond to fire mimicry

13 11 2011

Six years ago I began fire mimicry treatments on these trees in Carmel . . .

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Ancient redwoods in decline

21 01 2010

A week or so ago a large redwood tree growing near my home here in Big Sur lost its top. The wind blew hard and broke off the upper part of the redwood as shown in Photo 1. In many places around Big Sur ancient redwood trees have lost their tops during the winter storms. Some of these tops are more than three feet in diameter and you don’t want to be around when they come crashing to the ground.

Photo 1 (photo by Lee Klinger)

I realize, of course, that it is not unusual for large trees to succumb to high winds, but what does seem unusual is that in some groves nearly half of the ancient trees have lost their tops within the past 20 years or so. By all appearances these redwoods have grown healthily together in these groves for three, four, five centuries or more, so why are they suddenly losing their tops?

The answer is not too hard to figure out. Yes, there is acid rain falling in Big Sur (see here, here, and here) and that no doubt has some effect on the redwood ecosystem. But recent changes in land practices, most notably fire suppression, are causing dramatic shifts in the successional status of the redwood forests. In the past the native people set fires that revitalized the soil and kept the young redwoods from crowding out the older ones. Read the rest of this entry »

Upcoming workshop on tree and soil care at La Casa de Maria

15 09 2009


Saturday, October 10, from 9:30 am to 3:00 pm
La Casa de Maria Retreat Center, 800 El Bosque Road, Santa Barbara, CA

For thousands of years the native Chumash people tended the oak forests in the Santa Barbara. Now California’s oaks are endangered. Come for a workshop that will include presentations, time in La Casa’s oak woodland and a hands-on demonstration of tree care.

The Chumash used prescribed fire and other methods of traditional land management. To them, living on a living earth meant that the trees and forests were essentially organs of the planet. Keeping the trees healthy was fundamental for maintaining their quality of life.

Now-a-days, oaks and other trees are experiencing accelerated rates of decline in many parts of California, including the Santa Barbara area. A holistic view of the problem reveals that many of our aging trees and their soils are undergoing a major ecological shift brought on by changes in land management, especially fire suppression.

By revisiting the practices of the native people we are provided with an effective means of intervening in the decline of trees without the use of synthetic chemicals. Details will be presented on how fires and fire mimicry methods act to improve the fertility of soils and the health of trees. Results will be shown of case studies involving a suite of techniques to restore oak trees, including fire, mineral fertilizers, limewashing, brush clearing and mulching.

There will also be a presentation on the practical applications of the theories of agroecology that are now used in ornamental horticulture. By shifting from conventional techniques that utilize synthetic chemicals and pesticides to non-toxic organic products focused on improving soil fertility and insect ecology plant health is significantly improved.

This workshop will include a demonstration on traditional tree care using all-natural materials.

Lee Klinger, MA, PhD is an independent scientist and ecological consultant from Big Sur, with over 25 years of professional experience in the fields of biogeochemistry, forest ecology and soil science. He has held scholarly appointments at the University of Colorado, the University of Oxford, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Corey Welles is the Plant Health Care Coordinator at Lotusland. He has seen dramatic improvements in the health of their plant collections since using agroecology based practices.

For more information and to register online go to: