by Trevor George
The Valley Fire in mid-September was the third-worst fire in California history. The destruction and loss of life, homes, infrastructure and habitat are consequences that are still acutely being felt today. Hot, dry weather and a sudden windstorm fueled flames that barreled through forests and neighborhoods. Now, communities are coming together to heal, rebuild and learn from the catastrophe.
Sonoma Land Trust staff recently had a unique opportunity to see the results of the fire at the Boggs Mountain Demonstration State Forest. The Natural Resource Management faculty at the Santa Rosa Junior College invited us to participate in a multi-organization tour led by CalFire and a geologist from the California Geological Survey. The 3,500-acre property is managed by CalFire, who bought the land to study forest recovery after it was clear-cut in the 1940s. Now, it is being used to study the impacts of wildfire on the landscape and the success rate of certain fire mitigation techniques — and is an active example of how to manage a forest that has been badly burned.
The CGS geologist explained how they are taking advantage of this situation and quickly enacting studies to discover more about the erosion that occurs after a fire. The CalFire forester discussed with us how they will handle the many still-standing dead trees and how to check the cambium layer beneath the tree’s bark to estimate a tree’s chances of survival.
It was an eerie experience walking through what was once a vibrant and dominantly coniferous forest. The severity of the fire’s effects varied greatly throughout our walk. In some small pockets, green and lively trees still remained. Other parts of the property were covered in a thick carpet of brown needles that were unburnt, but baked from below and dropped from the trees. In the most severely burnt zones, the trees were reduced to branchless, charred poles stretching toward the sky.
This trip was an important lesson for Sonoma Land Trust staff. Many of our properties are in locations that have already experienced fire and are likely to do so again. It’s imperative that we continue to actively manage our forests for the inevitable occurrence of wildfire, and equally important to prepare an appropriate response based on the latest research in post-fire land management.
Here’s a big “Thank you!” to SRJC, CalFire, CGS and the other organizations that contributed to an educational day at Boggs Mountain Demonstration Forest.
Sonoma Land Trust is a local nonprofit based in Santa Rosa, CA, that conserves scenic, natural, agricultural and open lands in Sonoma County for the benefit of the community and future generations. This blog focuses on SLT's stewardship team, whose members do hands-on work to directly protect, restore, and safeguard the land for generations to come.