Maya Khosla, YES! MAGAZINE
“Logging is the worst thing you can do to these forests after wildfire,” said Dominick DellaSala, chief scientist of the Geos Institute. “Seedlings are killed as the logs are dragged out, and natural regeneration processes are destroyed.” Mechanical deforestation methods tend to cause soil erosion, which hinders replanting efforts and requires two or three rounds of herbicide application followed by additional replanting.
The May sun was still below the mountains when a small group of biologists set out in the brisk morning air of the Sierra Nevada. Comparing contour maps and checking radio channels, Dr. Chad Hanson and his team from the John Muir Project of Earth Island Institute spread out to explore the Stanislaus National Forest, about 160 miles east of San Francisco. The team was searching for black-backed woodpeckers, which are increasingly rare in the Sierra Nevada-Cascades region and which seek out forests that have recently burned with high intensity.
The Stanislaus is one such forest.
In August 2013, the Rim Fire swept over the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada, burning 402 square miles. Many feared its intense heat would prove catastrophic to the forest and its soil, leaving behind an ashen, lifeless moonscape.
“I never really spent any time in a burned forest because I was raised to think it’s just a destroyed habitat,” shrugged senior biologist Kevin Kilpatrick. “I was amazed at how much life there is.”
As the biologists made their way through the charred remains and dense new growth, mountain quail began announcing their territories with clear, high notes sung from the leafy proliferations of young black oaks and waist-high lilac bushes. Ground squirrels chased each other across a fallen ponderosa pine, charred along its length.
After three years with good rain and snow, the forest floor was so crammed with wallflowers, lupines, paintbrush, rare Clarkia australis blooms, oak and conifer seedlings, and taller saplings, that it was a challenge to step through.
Like most wildfires, the Rim Fire burned at varying severities. A vast majority of the forest burned with low or moderate intensity, charring the understory and sparing most trees, or leaving 25 to 75 percent as standing dead “snags.” About one-fifth of the Rim Fire burned with high intensity, turning more than three-quarters of the trees into charred snags.
And yet, despite the perceived damage, research has shown that high-intensity fires quickly grow into some of the rarest and most biodiverse habitats in the Sierra Nevada.
Read more at: After Catastrophic Wildfires, Forests Rebound on Their Own by Maya Khosla — YES! Magazine
New legislation comes despite science showing timber salvage harms essential wildlife habitat
Jodi Peterson, HIGH COUNTRY NEWS
The third-largest wildfire in California history, 2013’s Rim Fire, burned more than 400 square miles, including parts of Yosemite National Park and the Stanislaus National Forest. A year later, the Forest Service proposed cutting down the dead and damaged trees across about 50 square miles, but environmental groups sued to stop the salvage logging, saying it would harm wildlife and impede forest regeneration.
Their appeal was denied and logging began, but the groups’ concerns are increasingly borne out by science: Recently-released studies point to the crucial importance of burned-over habitat for many species, including the Pacific fisher and black-backed woodpecker. Despite this, Congressional Republicans are pushing two bills, supported by the timber industry, that would speed up logging in national forests after wildfires and reduce environmental review.
Read more at: Congress tries to speed up contentious post-fire logging — High Country News
Nigel Duara, THE LOS ANGELES TIMES
During the dry summer of 2011, wind gusts sent a 75-foot aspen tumbling into a power line, sparking a fire on federal land that burned for five weeks over an area the size of Manhattan. All that was left in the hottest burn zones was a silent swath of blackened trees and ash-covered ground.
Federal foresters decided the towering ponderosa pines would never return and declared the area dead, the first step in a process to allow timber companies to harvest trees on public land that would otherwise be off-limits.
But a growing body of fire research indicates that the federal salvage strategy creates more problems than it solves by stunting tree regrowth, denying habitat to a variety of species and increasing the risk of erosion.
Salvage logging destroys the forest’s initial regrowth efforts in nutrient-rich soil and needlessly removes shrubs that are probably beneficial to sapling trees, short-circuiting the natural life cycle of the forest, according to research.
“It’s kicking the forest when it’s down,” said Chad Hanson of the John Muir Project, an environmental nonprofit that opposes salvage logging.
The Forest Service and timber companies say that the dead wood must be removed before the forest can grow and that shrubs have to be killed off with herbicides so the conifers have sun to grow again.
Though part of the Las Conchas fire site was salvage-logged, another section outside New Mexico’s remote Jemez Springs was not.
Four years after the blaze, the Jemez Springs area today is alive with Gambel oak and three-toed woodpeckers, along with occasional conifer saplings growing amid the brush.
“See this?” Hanson said, pulling back a strand of oak to reveal a rubbery green pine sapling just an inch tall. “They said this wouldn’t be here, but we found it. And there’s more.”
By contrast, in places like California’s Rim fire site, salvage crews immediately began felling burned pines and dying trees, spraying the area with herbicide and planting conifer saplings. The result is little ground vegetation but stands of artificially planted conifers returning apace.
Read more at: Nature replants its own burned forests, environmentalists say
Soumya Karlamanla, LOS ANGELES TIMES
Call it a vicious cycle: drought, wildfires and bark beetles.
California’s historic drought stresses trees across the state, making them ideal prey for bark beetles. The insect infestations dry out vegetation further, creating forests that can light up like tinder. Fires then damage more trees, attracting more beetles, and turning more forests brown.
“So we all have to hope for rain,” said Tom Smith, park pest management specialist for the Central and Southern Sierra Region for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Bark beetles probably exacerbated the fire that ravaged Lake County over the weekend, he said. Experts called the Valley fire’s rapid spread unprecedented; the blaze, which began Saturday afternoon, grew to more than 40,000 acres in fewer than 12 hours.
“This last couple years has just been so extreme that everything’s under stress,” Smith said. “If we weren’t in the drought, we wouldn’t have so much bark beetle.”
He said there’s been heavy beetle activity in Lake County, and around Clear Lake, where the Valley fire is blazing. A U.S. Forest Service survey of the region in and around the Bay Area in June found that though tree mortality was increasing almost everywhere, the worst region by far was an area south of the lake.
UC Berkeley fire science professor Scott L. Stephens agreed that bark beetles in the area likely left dead trees ready to go up in flames. “There’s no doubt that’s going to enhance a fire,” he said.
He said that dead pine trees are much easier to catch on fire when they still have their needles, and they don’t lose them until a year after beetles kill them. Though pines that have been dead for years aren’t quick to ignite, the recently killed ones are standing fuel, he said.
Read more at: Meet the insect that helped fuel Northern California’s Valley fire destruction – LA Times
Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County residents who live in rural places prone to flooding and those in urban areas who are unable to afford protection against rising heat will be among those who suffer the most if the extreme conditions predicted to come with climate change materialize as expected, county officials said Wednesday.
The stark message headlined a day-long conference at Sonoma State University about adapting to the world’s changing climate and the increasingly unpredictable weather it generates.
The impact of more wildfires, rising sea levels, heavier periods of rainfall and longer dry spells will be widespread, scientists and public officials said Wednesday, affecting everything from the cost and availability of food to water supply, wildlife habitat and public safety.
The most vulnerable residents in Sonoma County are expected to be those living along the lower Russian River, where flooding would be more frequent; those who live in coastal communities or low-lying areas subject to rising ocean tides; and disadvantaged urban neighborhoods in Santa Rosa, the Sonoma Valley and elsewhere, where air conditioning is rare and older, under-insulated homes would offer little defense against extreme heat, said Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Susan Gorin.
“We need in the future to find out how we can help these communities adapt and survive,” she said.
Gorin’s comments kicked off a forum focused on climate adaptation at the local level, a first-of-its kind gathering in the county of scientists, conservationists, government planners, policymakers and others, organizers said.
Read more via Forum: Climate change to heighten flood, fire threat | The Press Democrat.
Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Gov. Jerry Brown has signed legislation that includes Sonoma and three other North Coast counties in a pilot project allowing trees up to 24 inches in diameter to be felled without a formal timber harvest plan for fire prevention purposes.
Sponsored by Assemblyman Wes Chesbro, D-Arcata, the bill extends to Sonoma, Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties an exemption from certain forest protection laws previously authorized for 24 Sierra Nevada and other inland counties in the aftermath of last year’s devastating Rim fire in Yosemite National Park.
The Forest Fire Prevention Pilot Project Exemption is designed to permit property owners to more readily harvest smaller trees if the aim is to reduce forest fuel loads and avert the kind of calamitous blaze that scarred 250,000 acres in the Yosemite area last year.
“Because coastal forests are also vulnerable to catastrophic wild fires, it made sense to extend the pilot project to parts of the coast,” Chesbro, chairman of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement. “When it expires, we can conduct a more thorough analysis on how to move forward with forest fuel treatment policy. The legislation does not allow clear-cutting and imposes specific requirements to ensure over-cutting does not occur.”
The exemption is to be operable for a three-year period expected to start later this year, when the state Board of Forestry implements the final regulation, legislative staffers said.
You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or mary.callahan@press democrat.com.
via Gov. Jerry Brown eases timber-cutting rules to prevent | The Press Democrat.
Joshuone Barnes & Nicolas Grizzle, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN
Coastal Hills Rural Preservation
Sonoma County violated county and state laws when it approved a 60,000-square-foot expansion of a printing press at a Buddhist retreat in rural Cazadero, say a group of residents who filed suit against the county July 24.
“They need to have an [environmental impact report] to determine whether or not this printing plant should even be there,” says Coastal Hills Rural Preservation member Ward Anderson.
The county? “We’re confident in the legality of the board’s decision,” says Sonoma County deputy counsel Verne Ball.
The lawsuit cites a Timber Cover Fire District concern that firefighters aren’t equipped to handle a large emergency at an expanded Dharma Publishing facility at Ratna Ling Retreat.
The county gave final approval to an industrial-use permit in late June; it allows for up to 122 people to live and work at Ratna Ling. The mission: print sacred Buddhist texts for distribution to Tibetan monasteries.
Opponents point to a dangerous combo: rural facility, many employees, small FD. “If you’ve got a fire, you’ve got 120 people heading in the other direction,” says Anderson. Access to the site is limited to one-way lanes in each direction.
Expect a fight in county court within six months. “Cases settle quite frequently, but there hasn’t been any discussion in this case,” says Ball. “The applicant and neighbors are very adversarial.” —Nicolas Grizzle
via Debriefer: August 6, 2014 | News | North Bay Bohemian.
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
This summer is not yet halfway over, but already the record book has been reset.
California has posted a record high average temperature during the first six months of this year, exacerbating a prolonged drought and sending North Coast residents flocking to swimming pools and ice cream shops.
Wildland firefighters, unable to find relief while battling more than 3,600 blazes, have suffered life-threatening heat-related illnesses that sometimes required helicopter evacuation.
“It’s serious business,” Cal Fire Battalion Chief Scott McLean said, noting that dehydration takes a toll on personnel in almost every major fire.
The hot weather also has further depleted the state’s reservoirs, boosting public water consumption as well as natural evaporation, which equals the annual draw from Lake Sonoma — the main Russian River reservoir — by a city of 53,000.
via Amid drought, state breaks another record for temperature | The Press Democrat.