Comparing post-fire recovery at two burn sites

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KRCR has an interesting article about post-fire recovery at two burn sites in northern California, discussing how different conditions at the time of the wildfires affected the vegetation now present in the areas. One is recovering much better than the other.

Below is an excerpt from the article:

This is how a forest fixes itself.

WEAVERVILLE, Calif. – Forest fires can destroy everything in their paths, burning trees and vegetation until the landscape is uninhabitable for months or sometimes even years. But, they can also usher in new life, creating a completely new ecosystem and fostering new growth.

The Oregon Fire of 2001, just outside of Weaverville, left devastation on the landscape that has yet to grow back 14 years later.

In comparison to the Eagle Fire of 2008, in a similar region of Trinity County, this wildfire burned large patches of landscape, but the forest is already starting to rebuild itself with trees and shrubs 7 years later.

Why is it that the landscape of the Eagle Fire is healing in half the time as the Oregon Fire landscape?

“Nature is a dynamic thing,” said Eric Knapp, research ecologist for the Shasta-Trinity National Forest Service. “Sometimes you see a big patch that has been burned at high severity. It won’t recover for many decades to even centuries.”

Knapp has dedicated his career to studying how ecosystems rebuild themselves after a devastating wildfire.

His colleague, Ben Newburn, is a forest fire chief, also of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest Service. Both have examined the landscapes of the two fires and determined why the Oregon Fire land remains desolate while the Eagle Fire land hosts life.

“It depends on the intensity and severity at which it burned,” explained Newburn. “The majority of the landscape at the Eagle Fire actually burned at low severity.”

Newburn added that was because of a few factors. The Eagle Fire was earlier in the summer than the Oregon Fire. There was more moisture in the soil and vegetation. Therefore, trees were not totally destroyed and life could come back more quickly.

“The fire burned 7 years ago and so the brush we’re seeing growing back now has grown in that time,” said Newburn. “We’re starting to see some saplings.”

In contrast, the Oregon Fire happened later in the season, when there was less moisture. Trees burned all the way through, leaving it hopeless for them to grow back.

When trees and vegetation are burned completely through there’s less of a chance of regrowth. Regrowth happens with one crucial ingredient: seeds…

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

One thought on “Comparing post-fire recovery at two burn sites”

  1. Excellent article. I think it’s good to acknowledge though that a certain amount of high severity burning is also good, ecologically. Land that is called “nuked” seldom is actually nuked. However what is aesthetically pleasing and liked by hikers or homeowners will differ from what is good ecologically.


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