Just three months since California’s November 2018 Fires made global headlines, the great winter greening of the state of California is underway and with it the urge to grow - in humans as in plants and animals. On the opposite side of the globe in Australia and South Africa, other fire adapted people and ecosystems are holding their breath for the first rains of late autumn to put an end to their annual fire season.
According to sources, 2018 marked the deadliest and most destructive wildfire season on record in California, fires in British Columbia burned more area than in any prior recorded year; and along with high numbers of wildfires throughout the western US, Australia, and South Africa, and 2018 also saw the unusual incident of a wildfire north of the Arctic Circle.
Fire is fact of life – this week we explore facts about fire and fire recovery with the California Native Plant Society and their instructional Fire Recovery Guide. With the help of other fire ecologists, experts, and researchers, CNPS members oversaw the guide as a compilation of current best fire recovery and fire preparedness practices in a variety of arenas – home gardens and landscapes, wildlands, and urban-wildland interfaces, always keeping soil, animal and plant community, air quality, and watershed health in mind.
We’re joined in this today by Greg Suba, conservation director for the CNPS, whose expertise includes forestry management and fire, and Julie Evens, vegetation science director for CNPS, and the person who oversaw the development of the original fire guide. A second guide is underway.
Julie and Greg joined us via Skype from CNPS headquarters in Sacramento, California.
“Native California oaks (Quercus spp.) have evolved mechanisms to survive periodic burning, whereby fire is a natural element of oak ecosystems.”
CNPS Fire Recovery Guide
In the course our conversation, Greg and Julie and I discussed how agencies and researchers from fire prone/adapted areas of the world are collaborating and sharing with one another - from Australia, to South Africa, to North America. Greg Suba ended with this observation about fire management and ecology in the US: "I think it’s important to look to the Florida and the southeast US, for how they’ve handled putting fire intentionally on the landscape for ecological and safety reasons – it’s now part of their annual cycle and we in CA and the west need to get there too…"
The first edition of the CNPS Fire recovery Guide can be downloaded here: DOWNLOAD FIRE RECOVERY GUIDE PDF
The guide was created with contributions from fire ecologists, experts, and researchers in this field across California, and beyond. The guide goes through some essential and timely questions and answers and steps to take immediately post fire as well as to prepare your home and grounds to diminish the possibility and impacts of fire, covering the following topics:
Initial Post-Fire Checklist for Land Care
Decision Flow Diagram for Post-Fire Management
Soil Erosion Control
Four Tips to Combat Soil Erosion 11 Straw Mulching Guidelines
Post-Fire Care and Recovery of Trees, Especially Oaks
Join the Effort and Re-Oak
Seeding vs. Natural Regeneration
Tips for Native Plant Gardening and Restoration
Important Notes on Seeding Grasses Following Wildfire
Special Plants and Ecosystems of the Region
Baseline Vegetation Maps
Rare Plant Species
Fire Awareness and Preparedness in the Future
Since the Campfire here, I’ve had so much correspondence about the fire – with so many of you writing in with questions, sending in help for the gardeners’ relief event that I was part of with nurseries here in my region last December (THANK YOU ALL AGAIN!), even gardeners from other fire prone regions writing to send hope – from Idaho, Colorado, Australia, and beyond. Fire is a fact of life everywhere – both its constructive and destructive aspects. I thank again every one of you who wrote with solace, with help, with presence.
As to the questions – they ranged so broadly, the answers are often so circumstantially specific in turn. If you sent in specific questions, please take the time to look through the fire recovery guide put out by CNPS, and to read this week’s show notes, where I outline some of the most common questions with links to recommended sources for answers as they unfold and evolve. Patience is hard right now, I KNOW, but to look around and see mother nature regenerating all around us – there are lessons all around us. Lessons like John noticing that where he’d trimmed back grassy growth and duff at the bases of his oaks, these oaks seemed less likely to fall prey to the base-burn that toppled many other oaks around his property – trees that otherwise showed no signs of a canopy fire other other damage. Lessons like the resilience of the redbuds and buckeyes, but the fire danger of the invasive blackberry patches. Patches he’ll work to keep down more aggressively in the future.What is land showing you right now? What lessons are the many inhabitants offering up? The ants and gophers post-fire have been very active, tunneling and aerating….it’s fascinating to see them stirring up life in their own way
Questions about soil and water contamination include:
Q: “What should I be concerned about with my soil and levels of contamination -- from heavy metals, perhaps, and/or the combustion of plastics and other toxic substances (and unimaginable combinations)?”
A: And the answer to this is YES – and ALL OF THE ABOVE. While vegetation ash is not toxic, although it can irritate skin and respiratory systems, household materials are complex and very toxic with plastics, chemicals, etc. Seek professional clean up help and advice.
Q: The follow up question is of course What can I do to remediate the situation, moving forward? These are all“ in many cases clean up companies paid for by insurance will clean up the footprint of the structures and remove some of the soil – adjacent soil is possibly contaminated, as perhaps are water sources – wells, public water for the time being, etc.
A: The best most immediate response is plant edibles (especially root crops) in new soil – in raised beds or containers, and water with what you know to be clean water – the public water quality in our region is being monitored and worked on all the time here right now and you can follow the results and progress https://pidwater.com/wqadvisory
Q: And what about fruit trees and other new inground plantings, how do I bioremediate for these, I’ve been asked and the immediate response to this depends on the levels and types of contamination in your water and soil, and so testing will be necessary.
A: Contact your local fire safe council ( http://www.paradisefiresafe.org/ or http://www.buttefiresafe.net/), UC extension agent or office (http://cebutte.ucanr.edu/), FEMA contact, or insurance point person, to find out more about testing already done, and tests they recommend you do, and tests they will cover the costs of.
While there are some excellent studies on the effectiveness of various bioremediation practices including compost, mulch, cover crops and beneficial fungal innoculations, these are likewise deployed with varying degree of effectiveness (and potential fungal community damage) depending on the type and extent of your contamination issues.
THINKING OUT LOUD this week..
And it’s the end of January and this marks the end of the three full years of creating, hosting and airing Cultivating Place. With upwards of 10,000 subscribers and more than 660,000 hits, 200,000 unique listeners downloading the podcast, I feel so grateful and humble for this community of gardeners, garden, and nature lovers sharing, listening and learning together. Thank you for being here.
It’s a new years and a season of new beginnings. We have a lot of ideas budding here at Cultivating Place, and we need your support to help bring them to life.
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