Agencies assess fire’s damage to wildlife | SierraSun.com
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Agencies assess fire’s damage to wildlife

Lara Mullin, Sierra Sun

The California Department of Forestry and the U.S. Department of Fish and Game will join forces with local municipalities like the Lahontan Water Quality Control Board, state agencies from California and Nevada and wildlife protection services on the Federal level in a massive rehabilitation effort on the 14,500 acres of Sierra forest land scorched by the Martis Fire.

Coordinating efforts among so many organizations that have conflicting notions of rehabilitation may well be a factor in the speed of the revegetation process.

“We will be working to make sure the truth gets out about these fires,” said Tina Andelina of the California Wilderness Coalition. “People need to realize that they are a natural part of the ecosystem and that the forest will rejuvenate itself in time. We will be keeping a close watch on the rehabilitation crews to ensure that unnecessary logging does not take place.”

A team of experts is expected to begin surveying the burned area as early as today, and rehabilitation work will begin immediately following a cost assessment.

“The quicker we get in there and assess the damage, the quicker we can devise a timeline for bringing the ecosystem back into balance,” said U.S. Dept. of Fish and Game Spokesperson Randi Thompson. “Our number one concern is getting vegetation replanted before heavy rains come.”

Storms with heavy rains in the Sierra could spell disaster for the fish population in the Truckee River and surrounding water resources, possibly extending into the Reno area water supply.

“The loose soil not only means erosion of dirt into the rivers, but also sediment that will destroy spawning areas,” added Thompson.

It will take months to offset the damage from the fire, maybe even longer.

The CDF and the Department of Fish and Game will begin the rehabilitation process by planting willows and cottonwoods along the banks of the streams to stabilize the soil as well as provide shade for fish and returning wildlife.

A complete damage evaluation and revegetation efforts cannot begin until the fire, which is currently 75 percent contained, is completely contained. The Forest Service has estimated that the cost for the rehabilitation effort will top $10 million. A large part of the expenses will be shouldered by the Forest Service, as the burned acreage sits on USFS land.

The Forest Service will largely dictate the terms of the rehabilitation timeline, much to the dismay of special interest groups like the California Wilderness Coalition, who would rather see the forest come back to health without human interference.

Fire has been a vital part of the environment since the retreat of the glaciers over 10,000 years ago. Despite spending millions of dollars annually to fight forest fires and preserve the forest ecosystem, the California Department of Forestry and the Bureau of Land Management are becoming increasingly vocal about the significant environmental gains from wildfire.

“The reluctance to allow natural fires to balance forest growth has resulted in a virtual tinderbox in the Western U.S.,” said Mark Mollecki of the National Center for Policy Analysis.

Vegetation has become fire dependent over thousands of years and needs the lick of the flames for renewal, according to the Department of Forestry. A blaze will reduce the build-up of dead leaves and undergrowth that crowds the forest floor while also thinning the overhead forest canopy, increasing the amount of sunlight to spur low lying growth.

Lodgepole pine and jack pine have resin-sealed cones that stay on the trees for years. In the heat of a fire, the resin melts and the cones open, scattering seeds onto the ground to grow into new stands of pine.

Certain species of wildlife also benefit from the nutrient rich vegetation that can take root immediately following wildfire. Woodpeckers graze on bark beetles and other insects that make their homes in newly burned trees. In addition, lightly burned or unburned areas provide a reservoir of seeds to revitalize the damaged acres, thus starting the cycle of life all over again.

After the 1988 fire in Yellowstone National Park, more than 250 experiments were performed on the damaged 739,000 acres of Wyoming woodland. A mere three years after the fire, nutrient rich growth was plentiful on the forest floor and the revegetation was remarkably rapid. California and Nevada agencies working on the Martis fire, are hoping nature can perform a similar wonder in the Sierra.


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