Fire and Post-Fire

SERCAL 2016 Technical Session, Tahoe

Chair: Carol Presley, Carol Presley Consulting

Lead presenters in alpha order

Fire plays a critical role in the renewal and reinvigoration of landscapes. Land stewards, farmers and restoration ecologists, use fire proactively to eradicate invasive exotic plants that threaten to out-compete native species. Fire is also highly effective at providing a non-chemical means to kill microbial pathogens and combust diseased vegetation in order to reduce the spread of infection. 

Fire, either in a prescribed manner as in fuel load reduction, or under wildfire conditions, yields ecosystem-wide benefits, whether or not the fire was “planned”. In the last couple of years, California has experienced record numbers of wild fires in habitated areas and in designated forests. Post-fire efforts include erosion protection, slope stabilization, and creating conditions to allow pre-fire vegetation or more historic species compositions to establish. There exist mixed theories on how to implement these ends. The majority of presentations in this session are case studies of post-fire treatments.

Fire Mid-restoration Planning Process: An Extra Check on Design

Kyra Engleberg* and Nate Bello

WRA, Inc., 2169-G East Francisco Blvd., San Rafael, CA 94901; 415.524.7238;

The 300-acre Elizabeth Lake restoration site is part of a 4,000-acre mitigation bank between the Angeles National Forest and the Mojave Desert in northern Los Angeles County. WRA conducted baseline studies in 2011 and began planning to a restore alluvial fan habitat by removing man-made impoundments. In the summer of 2013 the Powerhouse Fire burned over 30,000 acres in Los Angeles County and destroyed nearly 60 structures. This fire swept through the planned restoration site and dramatically changed the landscape, threatening to undo years of planning. Monitoring post-fire has demonstrated increases in diversity of native plant species and in the extent of native shrubs/ subshrubs. Surveys found fire-follower species not previously recorded onsite such as Acmispon glaber (deerweed) and Eriodictyon parryi (poodle-dog bush), and increases in bush poppy (Dendromecon rigida) and Davidson buckwheat (Eriogonum davidsonii). However, increased numbers of invasives were also observed. The increase in bare ground following the Powerhouse Fire also presented an opportunity to observe sediment and flow characteristics of substantial flow events. Several large rain events have occurred since the Powerhouse Fire that resulted in substantial sedimentation and erosion at the impoundments that the restoration would remove. These observations validated the assessment of the hydrologic impairments and highlighted the need for the restoration. While major events such as fire require the reexamination of restoration plans and resurveying, they may not compromise the design and may actually support it. Because any robust restoration design should take into account natural disturbance like fire, fire mid-planning process may offer a validation of the activities, as in the case of Elizabeth Lake.


How Could California Benefit from the Newly Enacted “National Seed Strategy for Rehabilitation and Restoration”

David Gilpin

533 Hawthorne Place, Livermore, CA  94550; 925.373.4417;

In September 2015, the Bureau of Land Management and its federal agency partners introduced a “National Seed Strategy for Rehabilitation and Restoration” at a press conference in Boise, ID. The Strategy is the government’s response to address the impacts of plant community disturbances by natural and man-caused events, particularly fire. The mission of the Strategy is to ensure genetically-appropriate seed for future large-scale rehabilitation and restoration projects. The four goals of the Strategy are 1) Identify seed needs and ensure genetic availability; 2) Identify research needs and improve technology for native seed production; 3) Develop tools to make timely restoration decisions; and 4) Develop strategies to improve communication. The question remains, “How could California benefit from the National Seed Strategy,” and what in the strategy offers California land managers and individual landowners the best available tools to address the impacts of excessive erosion and noxious weed infestation. In the short term, few functional benefits or accomplishments are offered to California landowners. However, a long-term view offers more benefits, as time could allow for plant material (seed) availability through production grow-outs from the seed industry for a public seed bank. Federal and/or state agencies or consortiums of public and private entities would want to make funds available for seed production, acquisition, and storage as well as for research purposes. Agencies and private practitioners would specify and use seed as a primary tool to reclaim disturbed lands. Standards for genetic appropriateness would be adopted when large-scale reclamation efforts are proposed and local or regional seed is produced. The State of California and their partners should support a “Native Seed Certification Program” to help focus the California native seed industry. In order to be successful and make this Strategy a reality, the seed industry and the agency/private partners would work together to bring genetically-appropriate seed to the market place in quantities sufficient to meet the needs of multiple large-scale projects that may occur regularly.   


The Importance of Fire in Grassland Restoration

Jaymee Marty

Marty Ecological Consulting, Sacramento, CA; 916.416.7015;

Fire is used in California’s highly invaded grasslands to control cover of invasive species, particularly certain non-native grasses. Many native species persist in these grasslands despite the high cover of exotics particularly at sites with extreme edaphic or hydrologic environments (e.g. serpentine, vernal pools). At four study sites spread across the Sacramento Valley, I assessed the effects of fire on plant community composition in heavily invaded uplands and less invaded seasonal wetlands known as vernal pools occurring within the grasslands. Across all sites, fire reduced exotic grass cover but increased exotic forb cover. However, exotic forb cover increased only in the upland habitat outside the vernal pools while exotic annual grass cover was reduced throughout the habitat. Native plant biodiversity increased with burning for at least one year post-burn across all sites and for at least three years at one of the sites. While prescribed fire can be a challenge to implement, it is one of the few grassland restoration tools that provides both the ability to treat large areas and replenish the native seedbank, preserving native biodiversity potential into the future.


Revisiting Burned Chaparral Landscape 14 Years Post Fire

Carol Presley, PE

Carol Presley Consulting;

In October 2002, 3100 acres of predominantly chaparral vegetation were burned in the eastern slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains west of Morgan Hill, California. Various treatments were suggested by a variety of resource agency staff, a major concern being resultant sedimentation to a receiving reservoir. This presentation discusses the rationale for treatment selection given the restrictions of private ownership, poor access, steep terrain, and most importantly, re-establishment of resident vegetation. Photographs of the burned areas and subsequent treatments tell the story best with discussion of fire progression, products and work forces used, and qualitative evaluation of the treatment strategy that was employed. Post-fire treatments must consider the existing landscape and resident vegetation in order to develop the appropriate treatments. Site-specific conditions — including proximity of residences, existing and future land-use considerations at the site — also contribute to the selection of treatments. After a significant fire, there is oftentimes a tendency to respond to erosion concerns by immediately establishing some sort of vegetation. For the ultimate renewal of chaparral landscape, this does not always present the best alternative if the long-term goal is to promote re-establishment of the pre-fire landscape.


Restoration Express—Creative, Effective, and Timely Restoration Efforts Following California’s Butte Fire

Chris Swann1, Justin Mynk2, Jose Setka3, and Vanessa Stevens4 

1EBMUD Ranger Supervisor; 209.772.8258; 2EBMUD Senior Ranger; 209.772.8259; 3EBMUD Manager of Fisheries and Wildlife; 510.287.2021; 4GIS and Resource Specialist;

Timely post-fire restoration can be notoriously challenging. Recognizing the scale of the impacts of the September 2015 Butte Fire in Calaveras and Amador Counties, the need to act quickly (before the rainy season) and the potential for severe water quality impacts, EBMUD took an active role on restoration efforts in the Mokelumne River Canyon. In an intensive, 3-month all-hands-on-deck strategy, we identified critical sites in need of prompt protection, took result-based action, and adaptively managed our responses based upon real-time observations. Following industry standards, creative alternatives, and internally proofed processes, EBMUD jumpstarted the restoration efforts in November 2015, continuing direct and indirect actions through early February 2016. Our measure of success focused on site stabilization, water quality protection, and the re-establishment of native perennial plant populations on the landscape. We employed EBMUD staff, state crews, volunteers, and landowners in a multi-pronged effort. Our qualitative data coupled with fiscal details and strategic actions provides a unique view of success in post-fire restoration efforts.


Response of Vegetation after Wildfire on the Warm Springs Natural Area in Moapa, Nevada

Von K. Winkel, Ph.D.

Southern Nevada Water Authority, 101 N. City Parkway, Las Vegas, NV 89106;

During July 2010, a wildfire burned 407 acres of the Warm Springs Natural Area (WSNA) in Moapa, Nevada. The WSNA is a natural area owned and operated by the Southern Nevada Water Authority and is home to 28 sensitive wildlife and macroinvertebrate species including the endangered Moapa dace (Moapa coriacea), the Southwestern willow flycatcher (Empidonax trailii extimus), Vermillion flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus), and the Moapa naucorid (Limnocoris moapensis). The fire burned 112 acres of mesquite bosque, 16 acres of riparian tree corridor along the Muddy River and its tributaries, 157 acres of shrubland, nine acres of California palm (Washingtonia filifera) groves, 93 acres of grassland, and 20 acres of wet meadow and marshland. Following the fire, the recovery of resprouting species was rapid in contrast to non-sprouting species which was nearly non-existent. Five years following the fire, nearly every burned Western honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa var. torreyana) had resprouted. The height of resprouted branches was over 80% of pre-fire tree height. Western honey mesquite trees rebounded so quickly and abundantly that several mesquite groves were thinned to decrease fuel loading. In contrast, almost no screwbean mesquite (Prosopis pubescens) trees had resprouted after five years. Burned velvet ash (Fraxinus velutina) tree resprouts were so abundant that new stems outnumbered burned stems 7:1. In contrast, few cottonwood trees (Populus fremontii) resprouted. Resprouting shrub species, arrowweed (Pluchea sericea) and water jacket (Lycium andersonii), reached near pre-fire growth by summer 2015.


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