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					   FIRE IN CALIFORNIA’S OAK WOODLANDS
                             OODLANDS
                                                         eary
                                                     McCrear            Resources
                              Compiled by Douglas D. McCrear y, Natural Resour ces Specialist
                              California                                                          alley,
                                                                                         Browns Valley
                University of Califor nia Cooperative Extension, 8279 Scott Forbes Road, Br owns Valley, CA 95918


History of Fire                             major fire intervals between 30-50           Native American Use of Fire
Fires Today in California                   years in savanna, woodland, and chap-        Prior to the arrival of Europeans, Na-
Everyone who lives in California is         arral plant communities, with major          tive Americans used fire as a manage-
aware that fires regularly occur in our     fires in forests occurring every 40-100      ment tool (Blackburn and Anderson
state and can have devastating conse-       years. Fire is an essential element of       1993). Woodland understories were
quences. This past year (2003) we           oak ecosystems, but since the early          regularly burned for a variety of rea-
were again reminded by the fall fire        part of the 20th century, fires have been    sons, including facilitating access,
siege in Southern California that de-       aggressively suppressed in California,       stimulating the growth of materials
spite of our long-standing efforts to       resulting in fewer escaped fires.            used for weaving baskets, improving
suppress and control fires, we are still                                                 habitat for game animals, making it
                                            Research indicates that prior to Euro-       easier to collect acorns, and killing
at the mercy of the Mother Nature and
                                            pean settlement in the mid-1800s, fires      insects that damaged acorn crops
during extreme fire weather, there is
                                            occurred in the northern Sierra foothill     (McCarthy 1993). Frequent low-inten-
little we can do to prevent, or even
                                            woodlands approximately every 25             sity woodland burning probably re-
contain, fires that do start. This White
                                            years (McClaran 1986). During the            sulted in the creation and maintenance
Paper was prepared in the aftermath of
                                            decades following the Gold Rush,             of cohorts of large oak trees. Repeated
these tremendously destructive fires to
                                            fires were even more frequent. Fire          burning would likely have killed brush
provide information to landowners,
                                            history research by Stephens (1997)          and small trees and there would have
resource managers, and policy makers
                                            found that in a mixed oak-pine forest        been efforts to protect large trees since
about fire in oak woodlands. It is
                                            (75%-25%) in El Dorado County,               they are generally the best acorn pro-
meant to provide a broad overview
                                            mean fire intervals in three study plots     ducers. Shrublands were also likely
and address several limited, but impor-
                                            were approximately 8 years between           regularly burned by Native Americans
tant, subject areas including historical
                                            1850 and 1952 (range was from 2-18           in California’s coastal ranges to reduce
fire patterns, prescribed fire, the ef-
                                            years). The intentional use of fire by       shrub cover and convert areas to grass-
fects of fire on oaks and ecological
                                            early range managers probably con-           lands (Keeley 2002). In the lower el-
processes in oak woodlands, what can
                                            tributed to an increase in fire fre-         evation valleys, repeated burning
be done to help prevent future fires,
                                            quency.                                      would have promoted more open sa-
and what landowners can do following
fire to help the land and associated re-    In central and southern California           vannah-like stands with widely spaced
sources recover. It is our hope that this   coastal shrublands, fires frequencies        valley oaks, and a mosaic of fine-
paper will provide concise information      prior to the arrival of Europeans were       grained vegetation patches, with rela-
about this critical subject to help a va-   higher than would have occurred natu-        tively little shrub cover. This is
riety of people understand fire in oak      rally, presumably because Native             certainly what the earliest explorers
woodlands and assist them in develop-       Americans regularly used fire to con-        reported seeing in the central valley of
ing strategies to minimize its negative     vert shrublands to grasslands (see be-       California in the early part of the 19th
effects.                                    low), and in the 1800s, European             century (Pavlik 1991).
                                            settlers continued this practice. There      Fire Suppression in the
Natural Fire Frequency                      were also infrequent high intensity
Native California oaks evolved in a                                                      20th Century
                                            fires during extreme fire weather
Mediterranean climate where natural                                                      There has been a policy of active fire
                                            (Moritz 1997).
fires burned regularly. Pavlik et al.                                                    suppression in California during much
(1991) characterize Mediterranean cli-                                                   of the 20th century which has altered
mates in general as fire-prone, with
                                                                                                           (continued on next page)


                                                           June 2004
historic fire frequency, fuel loads, and    the terrain are the key components in      weather conditions and abundant fu-
fire dynamics. That is, the significant     determining the intensity of such wild-    els, the fire was out-of-control for sev-
reduction of fire as an ecosystem pro-      fires.                                     eral days, in spite of massive
cess has had important consequences,                                                   containment efforts.
allowing an accumulation of fuels that      The view that fire suppression in the
had previously been consumed during         20th century has contributed to the        A few years later, another disastrous
regular, low-intensity fires. In addition   likelihood of larger fires today is sup-   fire burned in the mountains just north
to causing a build-up of woody vegeta-      ported by research comparing fire re-      of San Luis Obispo. This fire, called
tion in the understory, fire suppression    gimes in Southern California, where        the “Highway 41 Fire,” consumed
has also promoted an increase in tree       fire suppression has been practiced for    over 50,000 acres of oak woodland-
density, and some open, savannah-like       a century, to fire regimes in nearby       chaparral habitat between Morro Bay
woodlands converted to vegetative           Baja California, Mexico, where fire        and San Luis Obispo and destroyed
communities with a greater shrub            suppression has been largely non-exis-     homes and other property. At times the
component. In some locations, there         tent for much of this period (Minnich      fire burned approximately 7,000 acres
have also been significant increases in     and Chou 1997). The fine-grained mo-       per hour. Headwaters of most creeks
dead and down woody material and an         saic of vegetation in Baja resulting       burned with an intensity that raised
increase in “ladder” fuels connecting       from fires being allowed to burn has       concerns for recovery of riparian veg-
ground vegetation to the tree canopies.     greatly reduced the average size of the    etation. Furthermore, in the winter fol-
This has resulted in oak woodlands          fires that do start there.                 lowing the fire (1995), one particularly
that are more susceptible to severe,                                                   heavy storm moved thousands of tons
                                            Finally it is worth noting that although   of sediment into creeks, and then into
crown-consuming fires today, al-            there has been a concerted and gener-
though such large fires are not a recent                                               Morro Bay, burying sensitive plant
                                            ally effective program of fire suppres-    species and washing out breeding
phenomenon in the state, and certainly      sion in California in the last 100 years
have occurred in California’s                                                          habitat for several important amphib-
                                            — at least in terms of keeping small       ian and fish species. Rehabilitation
shrublands for centuries (Mensing et        fires small—the frequency of igni-
al. 1999, Moritz 2003).                                                                and restoration efforts focused on the
                                            tions, at least in Southern California,    planting of willows and sycamores to
When wild fires do start in California      has actually increased with population     enhance habitat for sensitive terrestrial
today— especially during extreme fire       growth. This is because most of the        vertebrate species, and on soil stabili-
weather—there is a greater likelihood       fires that do start today are human-       zation and channel clearing for the
that the conflagration will become so       caused, either accidentally or inten-      fisheries.
intense that tree canopies will be ig-      tionally, and it is reasonable to expect
nited and the trees will be consumed.       that the threat of people igniting fires   The largest fire on record in California
Clearly weather conditions play a criti-    will increase as the population contin-    occurred in fall 2003 in Southern Cali-
cal role in determining the size and        ues to grow.                               fornia. This was really a series of four-
scope of fires. But since California                                                   teen fires that burned simultaneously
regularly experiences extreme fire          Recent Examples of                         during a period of extreme fire
weather, with strong east winds, usu-       Woodland Fires                             weather, pushed by dry Santa Ana
ally accompanied by high heat and            There are numerous examples of            winds. The “Cedar Fire” was the larg-
low humidity, it is not a matter of “if,”   wildfires in oak woodlands in the last     est, burning over 280,000 acres and
but “when,” such fires will start. Such     several decades that have become           destroying over 2800 structures. When
weather is common in the fall when          large conflagrations, in part because      all of the fires were extinguished, three
Santa Ana winds blow hot, dry wind          fuel loads were so high. In 1988, there    quarters of a million acres had burned
off the desert, especially in Southern      was a fire in the Sierra Nevada foot-      and nearly 4000 homes had been de-
California. Fire risk is especially high    hills of Nevada County called the          stroyed. While these fires were so vast
because such winds occur at the end of      “49er Fire.” This fire started in mid-     (approximately one third of San Diego
a 6-month drought period when fuels         September and by the time it was           County alone was burned!) that many
are exceedingly dry. Fires that start       through, it had burned 35,000 acres        vegetation types were burned, oak
during these conditions have a far          and destroyed nearly 300 structures. It    woodlands and coastal sage scrub
greater chance of becoming large in         burned primarily in low-elevation          communities were some of those most
scope. The combination of fuel load-        foothills and fuels consisted largely of   severely affected.
ing, weather conditions, and slope of       oaks and chaparral. Due to the severe                       (continued on next page)


2          Fire in California’s Oak Woodlands                                                                     June 2004
Planned or                                 ations where it could effectively re-         Ecological Effects of
                                           duce fuels and the risks of larger fires
Prescribed Fire                            later on.                                     Fire
Some believe that extensive use of                                                       Direct Effects on Oak Trees
prescribed fire is necessary to reduce     Prescribed fires also produce consider-       Unlike most coniferous species, oaks
fuel loads to what they were in Cali-      able amounts of smoke, creating con-          have evolved mechanisms to survive
fornia prior to the arrival of Europeans   flicts with neighboring landowners. In        periodic burning. Moderate and even
and, consequently, the likelihood of       most locales it is necessary to get ap-       low-intensity fires can scorch all the
large and destructive fires. As noted      proval from the State Air Quality Con-        leaves on woody plants. For most co-
above, fire was an important manage-       trol Board before starting a fire.            nifers such damage is usually lethal.
ment tool of Native Americans. Today,      However, the conditions that promote          Oaks, on the other hand, suffer little
planned or prescribed fires are inten-     smoke dispersal are often not favor-          long-term damage from the burning of
tionally set so as to mimic what might     able for controlled burns. Many con-          their foliage. If fires happens early in
naturally occur if fires were allowed to   sider air-quality restrictions a              the growing season, the trees may re-
burn. However, they are set under very     bottleneck to the use of prescribed fire      grow new leaves before autumn and
controlled conditions to minimize the      and hope that this conflict can some-         by the end of the year it may be diffi-
chances of the fire escaping. In addi-     how be rectified so that planned fire         cult to tell which trees were scorched
tion to reducing fuel loads, planned       remains a viable fuels-management             in the fire. If fires occur in the summer
fires are also used to control noxious     option.                                       the oaks usually will not produce a
weeds, to open areas up so that forage                                                   complete crop of new leaves until the
growth is enhanced, and to promote         It has also become much more diffi-
                                                                                         following spring. Following such fires,
the establishment of more desirable        cult to conduct “safe” prescribed fires
                                                                                         the trees can appear dead, since all
plant species. Minnich (2001) suggests     because the state’s landscape has be-
                                                                                         leaves are brown and brittle and the
that in chaparral communities a “fuel      come so much more fragmented, with
                                                                                         boles may be blackened. But many of
management strategy that maintains a       houses and other buildings within, or
                                                                                         these trees will survive and it is impor-
patch mosaic can be accomplished           adjacent to, areas targeted for burning.
                                                                                         tant that landowners understand this
through the use of planned broadcast       These ownership patterns complicate
                                                                                         since some may want to cut these trees
burns of moderate size.” Fuels reduc-      prescribed burning plans in many ar-
                                                                                         down, believing they will not recover.
tion accompanying such fires could         eas, particularly those in wildland-ur-
                                                                                         It is therefore generally a good prac-
preclude a recurrence of fire for de-      ban interface areas.
                                                                                         tice to wait at least a year after the fire
cades. Planned burning has been effec-     As a result of concerns about the use         to determine if a tree has been killed
tively used in a variety of oak            of prescribed burning and constraints         and should be removed.
woodland areas. Vegetation modifica-       on when fires can legally be set, con-
tion resulting from planned fire is                                                      More severe fires can kill the tops of
                                           siderable effort currently goes into re-
probably much more effective in re-                                                      oaks if the cambium has been heated
                                           ducing fuels by means other than fire.
ducing future wildfire intensity under                                                   to lethal temperatures. The cambium is
                                           Treatments such as hand clearing and
moderate weather conditions than un-                                                     that area immediately under the bark
                                           machine chipping are commonly used,
der severe fire weather, since under                                                     where cell division and radial diameter
                                           but these practices are generally more
severe conditions, almost any vegeta-                                                    growth occur. If the cambium has been
                                           expensive than burning and there are
tion will burn.                                                                          heated so severely that it has been
                                           risks associated with them as well (i.e.,
                                                                                         killed all the way around, the top of
However, prescribed burning is not         chainsaw injuries). The California De-
                                                                                         the tree will eventually die, since the
without controversy. Examples              partment of Forestry and Fire Protec-
                                                                                         apparatus that transports food within
throughout the West exist where pre-       tion (CDF) now treats almost as many
                                                                                         the tree has been destroyed. However,
scribed burns have escalated to cata-      acres using these practices as they do
                                                                                         it is often difficult to tell if the cam-
strophic wildfires. As a result, some      using fire. Another tool used in some
                                                                                         bium has been killed by merely look-
resource management agencies are           locales is to graze domestic livestock
                                                                                         ing at the outside of the trunk. Fires
reluctant to use, or approve the use of,   to reduce fuel loads.
                                                                                         that have scorched the bole and turned
planned fire because of the risk of es-                                                  it black are not necessarily hot enough
cape and the liability involved. Con-                                                    to kill the cambium – especially on
cerns about liability probably prevent
the use of prescribed fire in many situ-                                                                    (continued on next page)

June 2004                                                                         Fire in California’s Oak Woodlands              3
larger diameter trees that have thicker       have created conditions more favor-         south-facing exposed ridges are much
bark (Plumb and Gomez 1983). This is          able to oak regeneration. These in-         less likely to have oaks growing on
because bark is a good insulating ma-         clude eliminating competition,              them than are north-facing slopes or
terial and the thicker it is, the better it   creating a more favorable seedbed for       drainages, because soil conditions are
is at preventing heat damage under-           acorns to germinate, and reducing the       much drier on southern aspects. And
neath. However, if the fire has been          habitat of wildlife species that eat        in grazed areas, oaks that have sur-
hot enough to actually burn into the          acorns or seedlings. Since oaks sprout      vived can often be found in locations
bark and reduce its thickness, the cam-       and many other plants don’t, fires          that present some natural barrier to
bium is usually killed. One can often         could give sprouting oaks a “head           livestock and/or deer, such as rock out-
determine the severity of damage by           start” and enhance their chances of         crops or steep slopes. Mimicking these
cutting into and under the bark to ob-        survival. Also, fuel buildup as a result    natural patterns in artificial regenera-
serve the cambium. Healthy cambium            of fire suppression may have created        tion efforts, and choosing planting
is white and moist, while dead cam-           conditions unfavorable for recruitment      sites that afford some natural protec-
bium is usually brown and partially           (Mensing 1992). However, most               tion or better environmental condi-
dried out.                                    people believe that poor oak regenera-      tions, can often enhance success rates.
                                              tion is primarily caused by factors
Sprouting by Oaks                             other than fire suppression.                Effects on Erosion and
Even if an oak has been girdled and                                                       Water Quality
the aboveground portion of the tree           Planting Oaks in Areas Where Oak            In addition to the enormous costs of
has been killed, most will sprout from        Trees Have Been Killed                      large wildland fires from suppression
their base the following year. Sprout-        Even though most oaks will sprout           and the loss of property and possibly
origin trees initially produce many           following fire, in lower rainfall areas     life, fires can also have serious nega-
new shoots. These sprout clumps thin          this is less likely. And although there     tive consequences on a variety of eco-
out over time, although even mature           is little data on the subject, sprouting    system functions. Of significant
trees that started as sprouts usually         may also be inhibited in areas where        concern is the potential for erosion
have multiple trunks. In general, live        the fire burned extremely hot — espe-       after a fire, as denuded landscapes are
oaks are more vigorous sprouters than         cially where a portion of the root sys-     buffeted by early winter storms. Sedi-
deciduous oaks, and smaller diameter          tem was consumed. In such instances         ment from burned slopes can clog
trees are more likely to sprout than          it may be desirable to plant young          streams and reduce water quality. And,
large diameter ones, although all Cali-       oaks to replace trees that were killed.     as the recent events in Waterman Can-
fornia oak species will sprout. Oaks in                                                   yon in San Bernardino County (the
moister areas also generally sprout           Practices to artificially regenerate oaks   tragic mud slides on Christmas Day
better than those growing on dry sites.       in California are well established          2003 that claimed 14 lives) demon-
Many of the oak trees in California           (McCreary 2001). It is important to         strated, there are also serious safety
today originated as sprouts following         utilize plant material that is well         concerns associated with unstable
fire and can be recognized because            adapted to the site (i.e., locally col-     soils and mud and debris flows follow-
they usually have several main trunks.        lected acorns), to plant acorns or seed-    ing fire. To mitigate the likelihood of
Sprout-origin trees generally grow            lings at the right time of year (i.e., in   soil movement, it has been common
faster than young seedlings starting          the late fall or early winter when soils    practice since the 1940s to seed annual
from acorns. This is because they have        are moist), to make sure that the young     rye grass (Lolium multiflorum) onto
a massive root system compared to a           plants are protected from damaging          exposed slopes and cat trails. This has
newly germinated acorn. As such, they         animals, and to control competing           been done to quickly establish a plant
have access to greater amounts of wa-         vegetation in the immediate vicinity of     whose roots will theoretically help an-
ter and nutrients to support top              the seedlings for at least two years.       chor the soil. The seed of annual rye
growth.                                       Chances for success will also be en-        has historically been used because it
                                              hanced by choosing favorable                germinates rapidly, is relatively inex-
Oak Regeneration                              microsites for planting. These sites        pensive, and is easy to broadcast.
Some believe that fire suppression in         may be difficult to identify, but often
the last century may be contributing to       one can gain some insight by looking        However, seeding annual rye has be-
some of the oak regeneration problems         at nearby areas where oaks are present      come a controversial practice that is
in California today. According to this        and observing patterns where the trees      generally not supported by the eco-
theory, frequent fires in the past may        have established naturally. Usually
                                                                                                           (continued on next page)

4          Fire in California’s Oak Woodlands                                                                       June 2004
logical restoration community (Amme          Other erosion-control techniques in-           occur in the late summer or early fall
2003). Research suggests that except         clude fiber rolls, silt fences, straw mat-     when acorns are maturing, they can
in unusual circumstances where fires         ting, and wood chips.                          also cause a significant loss of the
are followed by gentle rains, seeded                                                        mast that so many animals rely on. But
annual grasses are unlikely to slow          Effects on Range Forage                        low-intensity fires, including con-
erosion (Gautier and Zedler 1982), can       Woodland fires also greatly reduce, or         trolled prescribed fires, generally have
suppress the recovery of native vegeta-      entirely eliminate, range forage. In ad-       little impact on acorn yield and can
tion (Conard et al. 1991), and may           dition to the effects of fire on aesthet-      create mosaics of differing succes-
promote higher rodent populations            ics and the potential for erosion, fires       sional stages of habitat that promote
which can cause increased levels of          that burn up forage can have serious           plant and animal diversity.
plant browsing and predation (Griffin        economic consequences for ranchers.
1982). Annual rye also tends to pro-         Since the vast majority of oak wood-           Most scientific evidence indicates that
duce dry, flashy fuels the following         lands are privately owned and the              typical oak woodland understory fires
year, increasing the likelihood of a         principal economic activity on these           do not adversely affect the majority of
subsequent fire (Griffin 1982). In-          lands is livestock production                  terrestrial animals. In an experimental
stead, it has been suggested that            (Bolsinger 1988), most fires on range-         fire that burned approximately 50% of
burned areas should either not be            lands force ranchers to look elsewhere         500 acres of mixed blue oak - coast
seeded at all, or should be seeded with      to obtain sufficient replacement forage        live oak woodland in central-coastal
mixtures including native perennials.        to maintain their herds. Often it is not       California, there was no appreciable
Aside from planting a more heteroge-         readily available, or available only at        loss of tree of shrub canopy cover
neous, natural mixture, the addition of      an elevated cost (McDougald et al.             (Vreeland and Tietje 2001). Although
perennials can help establish vegeta-        1991). In addition, fires usually de-          grass cover was reduced by 70% and
tion that provides a more natural fire       plete forage production the following          downed wood and woodrat houses by
break, since perennials stay partially       year, requiring additional forage              30%, there were no substantial or
green throughout the year and conse-         supplementation.                               long-term negative impacts to over
quently, are not as combustible in the                                                      150 species of birds, small mammals,
summer and fall as dried-out annual
                                             Impacts of Wildfires on Wildlife               amphibians, and reptiles monitored 2
                                             One of the most obvious consequences           years before and 4 years after the fire.
plants. Today, a more common prac-
                                             of fire in oak woodlands is the impact         This study demonstrated that many
tice on roads and fire lines in burned
                                             to wildlife habitat. Oak woodlands are         small, resident vertebrates merely go
areas is to install water bars and roll-
                                             one of the richest and most diverse            below ground during a fire and emerge
ing dips to minimize erosion. In addi-
                                             habitat types in the state and are home        unscathed once the flames have
tion, rice straw is used to mulch
                                             to roughly half of California’s terres-        passed. Species of lizards, snakes, and
burned slopes.
                                             trial vertebrates (Tietje and Vreeland         most rodents can readily survive fires.
Wildfires also cause changes in soil         1997). Fire has the immediate impact
structure that may exacerbate erosion        of changing the structural and compo-          Birds are not particularly vulnerable to
problems. The burning of litter and          sitional features of wildlife habitat, but     fire since they simply fly out of the
organic matter can reduce infiltration       this does not mean the habitat has             fire area, and unless the fire occurs
and increase runoff. Extremely hot           been “destroyed.” The wide range of            during the nesting season, most indi-
fires can also cause a waxy coating to       fire types dictated by fuel loads, fuel        viduals can easily escape. Little re-
form around soil particles below the         moisture, and weather conditions pro-          search has evaluated the impacts of
surface. These layers repel water, in-       duce a wide range of post-burn results.        fire on invertebrates, but it is logical to
creasing runoff, and can persist for         Many low- to moderate-intensity fires          assume that many insects that live
years, unless the physical structure of      can actually have a net positive effect        above ground are susceptible to fast-
the soil is somehow altered. On gentle       on wildlife habitat. Fire conflagra-           moving wildfires.
slopes it is possible to break up this       tions, on the other hand, can seriously
                                                                                            Larger mammals such as deer, bear,
hydrophobic layer by hoeing or rak-          impact habitats and require years for
                                                                                            foxes, etc., are also at risk from fast-
ing, but on steep terrain, this is usually   recovery. Bigger, hotter fires destroy
                                                                                            moving fires since they can only es-
not an option. In these instances, fallen    more of the seed base and cause a
                                                                                            cape by running away. This escape
logs can be strategically placed, or         greater loss of topsoil, both of which
                                                                                            mechanism puts individuals at risk in
straw mulch can be scattered on the          make habitat recovery slower and
slopes to help reduce surface flow.          more difficult. Since most severe fires                           (continued on next page)

 June 2004                                                                           Fire in California’s Oak Woodlands                5
severe, fast-moving fires such as those     is generally not economical, or even        How Will Fires
in Southern California in 2003. In          desirable, to do anything afterwards to
most cases, there are sufficient suit-      accelerate habitat development. An          Affect Oak Woodlands
able wildlife habitat elements soon         exception is if the habitat of a species    in the Future
after the fire to allow the surviving       that is particularly valued because it is   The condition of California’s oak
smaller animals to re-occupy the site       threatened or endangered, sensitive, or     woodlands today in terms of climate,
as the vegetation begins to sprout or       of high economic value, is severely         fuel loads, and ignition sources sug-
germinate. In time, larger animals will     impacted. For example, an isolated          gests that large catastrophic fires will
immigrate back into the fire area also      population of the endangered yellow-        continue to occur. As stated before, it
as these habitat elements are reestab-      legged frog (Rana boylii) occupied a        is not so much “if” as “when” these
lished.                                     mile of oak riparian habitat that was       fires will take place. Wildfires are an
                                            completely burned in a recent fire. Be-     inevitable, and ecologically important,
How a fire affects wildlife also de-        cause winter flooding would likely          process within oak-woodland ecosys-
pends on suppression methods. This is       silt-in their breeding habitat, the USFS    tems. People can, however, co-exist
important because suppression activi-       and the US Fish and Wildlife Service        with wildfire by taking steps to reduce
ties can be modified. Some of the           captured tadpoles and moved them            the adverse consequences of fires that
greatest ecological impacts result from     into a raising facility to be returned to   do start. Considering fire safety in
bulldozer activity, including where         the original                                                     planning where
lines are located and how big they are.     site in a year                                                   homes are built is
These influence future erosion and          or two when                                                      paramount and
silting, as well as access by cattle, mo-   the habitat is                                                   could significantly
torized vehicles, hikers, bikers, and       again suitable                                                   reduce property
hunters. Fire fighting equipment that       (personal com-                                                   losses. Too often
may have come from hundreds of              munication                                                       homes are located
miles away can also inadvertently in-       K.C. Cooper,                                                     in areas that are
troduce noxious weeds. For example,         USFS). Typi-                                                     vulnerable and es-
purple star thistle came into Santa Bar-    cally, however,                                                  pecially difficult to
bara County near Figueroa Mountain          with species                                                     protect, such as at
in 1993 on heavy equipment used to          that are widespread and not at high         the top of chaparral-covered slopes,
suppress the Marre Fire in oak wood-        risk, nature will take its course and the   which has been likened to building on
land.                                       species will recover.                       top of a chimney. And increasingly,
Fire suppression efforts also provide a                                                 fire suppression in woodlands is made
                                            A Fire Effects Information Database         even more problematic because
potential avenue for the spread of Sud-     is available online through the Rocky
den Oak Death (SOD) disease. Bull-                                                      houses are dispersed throughout areas
                                            Mountain Research Station Web site          that were previously rural. Access to
dozer lines, equipment caked with soil      (see list at end of paper). This database
contaminated with pathogens moved                                                       these homes is often difficult because
                                            provides up-to-date information about       roads are narrow and the houses are
by truck or helicopter, and even the        fire effects on plants and animals. It
footprints of the fire fighters them-                                                   spread out. Structures are also some-
                                            was developed at the USDA Forest            times not well identified on maps. As
selves, are all possible avenues for        Service Rocky Mountain Research
spreading Phytophthora ramorum, the                                                     a result, firefighters can have difficulty
                                            Station’s Fire Sciences Laboratory in       even locating structures to protect.
agent responsible for SOD. Poten-           Missoula, Montana. The Fire Effects
tially, introduced pathogens or noxious     Information Database contains gen-          When they can find the buildings, re-
weeds could have greater long-term          eral descriptions of almost 900 plant       sources that could have been used to
effects on wildlife populations than        species, approximately 100 animal           control a fire and establish a perimeter
the fire itself. However, these risks can   species, and 16 communities of plants       around it have been diverted to con-
be reduced by sanitizing equipment          found in North America. The empha-          centrate on defending homes, making
prior to use.                               sis of each summary is on fire and          control that much more difficult. Us-
Currently, on large-scale fires, both the   how it affects each species.                ing planning to promote in-growth
US Forest Service (USFS) and the                                                        within current urban boundaries, or
                                            Steps landowners can take to improve        supporting cluster developments
California Department of Fish and           wildlife habitat on burned landscapes
Game (DFG) take the approach that it        are also listed in the Appendix.                               (continued on next page)

6          Fire in California’s Oak Woodlands                                                                      June 2004
where houses are located together in         fuel reduction treatments, liability con-     burned landscapes:
fire-safe locations — leaving large ex-      cerns, and a reluctance to contribute to        • Build and install nest boxes (see
panses of wildlands intact — would           air pollution. But we do seem to be               Gorenzel et al. 1993);
certainly make it easier to fight and        learning more and are moving in the             • Retain some large dead and down
control fires that do start. Such devel-     right direction.                                  woody material for amphibians and
                                                                                               reptiles;
opments would also protect some
                                                                                             • Retain some standing dead trees
other important ecological values,           Conclusions                                       for cavity nesters (as long as they
such as maintaining large expanses of        Fires in California’s oak woodlands               do not pose a safety hazard);
undisturbed wildlife habitat, that are       will continue to occur and we have no           • Provide clean water in shallow
becoming increasingly recognized as          recourse but to learn to live with them           containers for animals moving
important.                                   as best we can. However, as indicated             through property;
                                             throughout this paper, there are things         • Add native plants to the landscape.
Making sure that structures are “fire-       we can do to minimize the negative            How to plant oaks in areas that have
safe” could also have enormous posi-         effects of fire. We can reduce fuel           burned:
tive benefits. There is certainly a much     loads and locate new construction in            • Plant either acorns or small
greater emphasis today than there was        areas that are easier to protect. We can          seedlings, but make sure planting
even 20 years ago on requirements            build homes with more fire-safe mate-             material originated from near
that buildings be constructed out of                                                           burned area, or from an area that
                                             rials and create buffer zones around
fire-resistant materials (e.g., substitut-                                                     has similar characteristics (eleva-
                                             structures by clearing vegetation and             tion, rainfall, etc.);
ing fire resistant roofing for non-          other combustible materials, thus re-
treated wooden shakes or shingles),                                                          • Plant acorns or seedlings in late fall
                                             ducing the risk of property loss. And             or early winter;
and that combustible fuels should be         we can help restore vegetation, includ-         • Protect young oaks from damaging
cleared from close proximity to struc-       ing oak trees, in areas that have                 animals (double-walled plastic
tures (Gilmer 1994). The emergence           burned. These steps will help reduce              “treeshelters” have worked well for
of local Fire-Safe Councils to promote       the loss of life and property that has            a number of oak species);
safe construction and maintenance ef-        become all too familiar. They will also         • Keep competing vegetation away
forts has also raised awareness about        help ensure that our native oak wood-             from oaks (4-ft. diameter weed-
the danger of wildfires and has re-                                                            free areas are recommended) for at
                                             lands, and the myriad of values they
sulted in significant improvements in                                                          least 2 years after planting.
                                             provide, are conserved for future gen-
construction and safety planning.            erations.
                                                                                           Literature Cited
Finally, there is an increased aware-                                                      Amme, David. 2003. Seeding after
ness of how fuel loads contribute to         Appendices                                       wildfires in California: Seed with
fire severity. From the Federal              Steps homeowners can take to make                natives. Ecesis 13(4):4-5.
Government’s “Healthy Forests Initia-        their property more fire-safe:                Blackburn, T.C. and K. Anderson. 1993.
tive,” to the California Fire Plan, to         • Thin and prune vegetation within             Introduction: managing the domesti-
                                                 100 feet of structures to create             cated environment. Pp. 15-24 in T.C.
local Fire-Safe Councils, there is
                                                 space where fire cannot easily               Blackburn and K. Anderson, eds.,
widespread recognition today that fu-            spread;                                      Before the Wilderness: Environmen-
els are much greater than they were in         • Remove “ladder-fuels” so that                tal Management by Native Califor-
the past, and that it is essential to re-        surface fires cannot easily burn             nians. Ballena Press, Menlo Park,
duce them in order to lessen the                 into tree canopies;                          Calif. 476 pp.
chances of catastrophic fires. These           • Use fire-safe building materials          Bolsinger, Charles L. 1988. The
are certainly steps in the right direc-          during construction (i.e., non-              hardwoods of California’s timber-
                                                 combustible roofing);                        lands, woodlands and savannas.
tion. However, agreeing on “how” to
                                               • Plant fire-resistant, drought-               USDA Forest Service Pacific
treat vegetation is often easier said                                                         Northwest Research Station Resour.
than done. Fragmentation and the in-             tolerant plants;
                                               • Store firewood away from                     Bull. PNW-148. 148 pp.
creasing complexity of ownership, as                                                       Conard, S.G, J.C. Regelbruggee and
                                                 buildings;
well as differing management goals             • In rural areas, develop water
                                                                                              R.D. Willis. 1991. Preliminary
and philosophies of adjacent landown-                                                         effects of ryegrass seeding on
                                                 sources (i.e., water storage tanks)
ers, can make it extremely difficult to                                                       postfire establishment of natural
                                                 that can be tapped into during fires.        vegetation in two California ecosys-
reach consensus about how best to re-        Steps landowners can take to im-                 tems. Eleventh Conference on fire
duce fuel loads. This difficulty is com-     prove wildlife habitat on severely
pounded by the accelerating costs of                                                                         (continued on next page)
 June 2004                                                                          Fire in California’s Oak Woodlands             7
   and forest meteorology, April 16-19.      Minnich, Richard A. 2001. An Inte-          • http://www.cnr.berkeley.edu/forestry/
   Missoula, Mt. 8 pp.                          grated Model of Two Fire Regimes.          curr_proj/fireabatement/fire.html
Gautier, C.R and P.H. Zedler. 1982.             Conservation Biology 16(6):1549-           Page of the University of
   Does emergency revegetation reduce           1553.                                      California’s Fire Abatement
   or increase sediment yields from          Minnich, R.A. and Y.H. Chou. 1997.            Workgroup that includes list of fire
   chaparral watersheds? Chap. Res.             Wildfire patch dynamics in the             publications of the California
   Mgmt. Newsletter. UC Coop. Ext.              chaparral in southern California and       Department of Forestry and Fire
   San Diego, CA. 8 pp.                         northern Baja California. Interna-         Protection.
Gilmer, Maureen. 1994. California               tional Journal of Wildland Fire7:221-    • http://ucanr.org/internal/
   Wildfire Landscaping. Taylor                 228.                                       planningi.shtml The Critical Issues
   Publishing Company. Dallas, Texas.        Moritz, M.A. 1997. Analyzing extreme          Section of the 2003 PPAC Report
   164 pp.                                      disturbance events: fire in Los Padres     describes how wildland fire is a
Gorenzel, W.P., R.H. Schmidt, and G.A.          National Forest. Ecological Applica-       critical natural resources issue in
   Giusti. 1993. Want to help wildlife?         tions 7:1252-1262.                         California, and discusses how the
   Start a nest box trail! Outdoor           Moritz, M.A. 2003. Spatiotemporal             University of California Division of
   California 54(1): 11-16.                     analysis of controls on shrubland fire     Agriculture and Natural Resources
Griffin, J.R. 1982. Pine seedlings, native      regimes: age dependency and fire           can help address research and
   ground cover, and Lolium                     hazard. Ecology 84:351-361.                education needs (pp 96-97).
   multiflorum on the Marble-Cone            Pavlik, B.M., P.C. Muick, S. Johnson,       • http://www.fire.ca.gov/
   burn, Santa Lucia Range, Ca.                 and M. Popper. 1991. Oaks of               FireEmergencyResponse/FirePlan/
   Madroño 29(3):177-188.                       California. Cachuma Press, Inc. Los        FirePlan.asp California Fire Plan
Keeley, J.A. 2002. Native American              Olivos, Calif. 184 pp.                     that provides a strategy for reducing
   impacts on fire regimes of the            Plumb, T.R. and A.P. Gomez. 1983.             risk from wildfires.
   California coastal ranges. Journal of        Five Southern California Oaks:           • http://www.firesafecouncil.org/ Web
   Biogeography 29:303-320.                     Identification and Post-fire Manage-       address for California’s Fire Safe
McCarthy, Helen. 1993. Managing oaks            ment. Pacific Southwest Forest and         Council that includes contact
   and the acorn crop. In: Before the           Range Experiment Station. Gen.             information for more than 90 local
   Wilderness: Environmental Manage-            Tech. Report PSW-71. 56 pp.                councils.
   ment by Native Californians. Thomas       Stephens, S.L. 1997. Fire History of a      • http://www.esri.com/jicfire/fireinfo/
   C. Blackburn and Kat Anderson,               Mixed Oak-Pine Forest in the               Information about the 2003 Southern
   Editors. Ballena Press Anthropologi-         Foothills of the Sierra Nevada, El         California Fires.
   cal papers, No. 40. pp. 213-228.             Dorado County, California. Pp. 191-      • http://www.usfa.fema.gov/ United
McClaran, M.P. 1986. Age structure of           198, in Proceedings, Symposium on          States Government Fire Administra-
   Quercus douglasii in relation to             Oak Woodlands: Ecology, Manage-            tion web site.
   livestock grazing and fire. Ph.D.            ment, and Urban Interface Issues.        • http://www.fireplan.gov/content/
   Dissertation. University of Califor-         USFS GTR-PSW GTR-160.                      home/ Information about managing
   nia, Berkeley. 119 pp.                    Tietje, W.D. and J.K. Vreeland. 1997.         the impacts of wildfires on communi-
McCreary, Douglas D. 2001. Regenerat-           Vertebrates diverse and abundant in        ties and the environment.
   ing Rangeland Oaks in California.            well-structured oak woodland.            • http://www.firewise.org Provides
   University of California Agriculture         California Agriculture 51(6):8-14.         documents, videos and other re-
   and Natural Resources Communica-          Vreeland, J.K and W.D. Tietje. 2001.          sources focused on firefighter safety,
   tion Services Publication #21601. 62         Numerical responses of small               fire at the urban-wildland fringe, and
   pp.                                          vertebrates to prescribed fire in a        protecting resources from loss to
McDougald, N.K., W.E. Frost and W.J.            California oak woodland. pp. 269-          wildfires.
   Clawson. 1991. Estimating the cost           279 in Proceedings of the Fifth Oak      • http://www.whitehouse.gov/infocus/
   of replacing forage losses on annual         Symposium: Oaks in California’s            healthyforests/toc.html Web address
   rangeland. University of California          Changing Landscape. USDA Forest            for Healthy Forest Initiative.
   Division of Agriculture and Natural          Service Pacific Southwest Research       • http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/
   Resources. Publication 21494. 20 pp.         Station Gen. Tech Rep. PSW-GTR             A Fire Effects Information Database
Mensing, Scott. 1992. The impact of             184.                                       that provides up-to-date information
   European settlement on blue oak                                                         about fire effects on plants and
   (Quercus douglasii) regeneration and      Internet Sources of                           animals.
   recruitment in the Tehachapi Moun-
   tains, California. Madroño 39(1):36-      Information on                               This is a publication of the University
   46.                                                                                     of California Integrated Hardwood
Mensing, S.A., J. Michaelsen and R.
                                             Fires in California                              Range Management Program.
   Byrne. 1999. A 560-year record of         • http://www.cnr.berkeley.edu/forestry/
                                                                                          Additional copies may be obtained at
   Santa Ana fires reconstructed from          curr_proj/fireabatement/fireuc.html
                                                                                              http://danr.ucop.edu/ihrmp/
   charcoal deposited in the Santa             List of fire-related publications
   Barbara Basin, California Quaternary        available from the University of               For more information, e-mail
   Research 51. pp. 295-305.                   California (62 are listed).                     ihrmp@nature.berkeley.edu


 8           Fire in California’s Oak Woodlands                                                                      June 2004

				
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