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