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New life emerging from the Rough Fire

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New life emerging from the Rough Fire

Postby ERIC » Sun May 01, 2016 7:50 am

New life emerging from the Rough Fire

David Castellon 7:13 p.m. PDT April 29, 2016
http://www.thecalifornian.com/story/new ... /83735014/


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Though the skies over the northern end of the Sequoia National Forest are no longer filled with smoke blocking the sun and irritating eyes and lungs, there are many stark reminders of what happened last summer.

An outlook off Highway 180 in the forest that once offered a breathtaking view of the Mill Creek Flat Basin in Sequoia National Park now offers a view that’s breathtaking for a different reason – scorched earth interspersed with black trees that, from a distance, resemble burnt match sticks, bereft of their needles or leaves.

Miles to the west, hillsides similarly scorched gray and black show the path of last year’s Rough Fire and where the flames stopped, just about a quarter-mile from Hume Lake, along with the buildings and resorts near it.

“It’s heartbreaking,” said Alicia Embrey, a Forest Service spokeswoman serving as a tour guide last week.

She showed where Highway 180 has been reopened since the fire and some badly burned areas in the national forest that may stay closed for months or years over concerns that trees killed by the fire could fall and hurt visitors.

The Rough Fire started with a lightning strike on July 31 in the neighboring Sequoia National Forest and burned for 99 days before it was fully contained in early November.

In that time, it burned through 151,623 acres, mostly in the Sequoia and Sierra national forests, and in parts of Kings Canyon National Park. The fire prompted the evacuation of Grant Grove Visitors Center due to the fire threat and heavy smoke – making it California’s largest wildfire in 2015. Dry conditions from the state’s ongoing drought didn’t help.

And drought still is having detrimental effects on Sequoia and Sierra forests, where areas that didn’t burn are filled with a growing number of dead and dying trees due to the lack of water and invasive bark beetles taking advantage of the water-starved and weakened trees.

Amid all this devastation is something surprising – life.

Even in areas where fires burned hot enough to scorch tree roots, new growth is emerging in patches on the ash-covered ground. And even in areas where flames tore through forests, some islands of still-living tees and brush can be found.

“Wildlife can be very adaptive to wildfire events. Like yesterday, we were in the middle of the Rough Fire [burn area] and saw a bear,” said Teresa Benson, district Ranger for the Hume Lake Ranger District in the Sequoia forest. She said other species are coming back to the area, too, including hawks nesting in scorched, dead trees.

And then there’s the new life being brought in by Arturo Castro, and his crew of nine fellow forest technicians, who three weeks ago began planting ankle-high seedlings in some of the most damaged portions of the Sequoia National Forest.

He said the crews planted 60 acres in just five days on steep slopes along the Mill Creek Flat Drainage, near the northern border of the Sequoia forest.

The sugar and Ponderosa pine seedlings they’re planting are among the 50,000 the Forest Service is starting with to repopulate trees destroyed in the fire.

Many of those dead trees were 160- to 190-feet tall, and the seedlings that survive and grow to fuller sizes likely will not reach those heights for 40 to 60 years, Castro estimated.

Forest Service officials used $24,000 from their 2015-16 fiscal year budget to buy the seedlings, with a plan to plant them only in areas where the Rough Fire was so intense that they destroyed seeds. New trees wouldn’t grow in these areas any time in the near future without help.

And if the trees don’t come back, Manzanita shrubs could grow in the forests unchecked “and take over the area.”

“It’s going to be 40, 50 years before you see a tree naturally growing in that area,” Embrey said.

The Rough Fire burned about 88,000 acres in the northern part of...

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Re: New life emerging from the Rough Fire

Postby gary c. » Sun May 01, 2016 11:10 am

Does anyone know what the conditions are like near the Cedar Grove campgrounds? I have a buddy with site reservations for the group camp and he invited me to go. Just wondering if the canyon is burned out or still beautiful. The FS normally does a great job of at least protecting the areas immediately around streams and campgrounds.
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Re: New life emerging from the Rough Fire

Postby limpingcrab » Sun May 01, 2016 8:47 pm

Does anyone know what the conditions are like near the Cedar Grove campgrounds? I have a buddy with site reservations for the group camp and he invited me to go. Just wondering if the canyon is burned out or still beautiful. The FS normally does a great job of at least protecting the areas immediately around streams and campgrounds.


Once your past Boyden Cavern it's pretty hard to tell anything happened unless you're looking for it. The last burned stuff I saw last week was up on the hills to the north of the market/lodge. Campgrounds looked unaffected and the canyon was still beautiful.
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Re: New life emerging from the Rough Fire

Postby gary c. » Sun May 01, 2016 11:09 pm

Thanks for the reply. I'm glad to hear that the area faired so well.
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Young sequoias thriving after Rough Fire

Postby ERIC » Mon May 09, 2016 7:46 am

Young sequoias thriving after Rough Fire

Posted: Saturday, May 7, 2016 6:00 am
By SPENCER COLE scole@portervillerecorder.com
http://www.recorderonline.com/news/youn ... 4361a.html


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GRANT GROVE — Forest and park officials held their collective breaths as the Rough Fire exploded into a behemothic disaster last August.

The small lightning-sparked fire gained strength quickly and rushed down the steep mountain slopes on the borders of the Sierra and Sequoia national forests.

By mid-month, it jumped the Kings River.

Like a burning tsunami, the wave of fire scorched everything in its path. It moved with alarming ease due to a combination of extreme drought conditions, prevailing winds and an excessive amount of dead fuel that had sat untouched for more than a century in some areas.

At one point, the blaze came within 215 yards of the General Grant Tree in Kings Canyon National Park, according to a press release from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

With the wall of flame approaching, park employees frantically dug fire lines and set sprinklers to dampen the ground and vegetation. Workers even set fires of their own to divert the path of destruction.

When the smoke cleared, the grove still stood, blackened in places but otherwise alive and even healthy.

More importantly, giant sequoias were able to spread their seeds.

“When I was working on the Rough Fire, following fire in the groves, the ground was just littered with millions upon millions of [sequoia] seeds on the ground,” said Tony Caprio, fire ecologist with Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks for the past 20 years.

The sight serves as a reminder of the natural role fire plays in the life cycle of some of the world’s largest trees.

“This is the process of the forest,” said Mike Theune, fire information and education specialist for the two parks. “One of the questions we get asked a lot is ‘if these trees have been around here for thousands years and humans for only a fraction of that, how do we know these trees need fire?’”

Theune said park officials and scientists study stumps and pieces of giant sequoias that have been logged or cut.

“We see these fire scars and can date them,” he said. “It leads to us (to figuring out) the frequencies of these historical fires.”

Caprio said that many years of fire exclusion, beginning sometime between 1860 and 1910, changed the forest dramatically.

“It became much denser, the species composition changed, we suddenly had a lot of white firs and incense cedar come to dominate the forest,” he said. “It was a much denser forest and you had a forest with a canopy with continuous fuel load from ground to the crown.”

The thick collection of surface fuels created hazardous conditions for fire.

According to park officials, the grove was only able to survive the recent Rough Fire due to the fire lines, sprinklers and, most significantly, a policy of prescribed burning.

“This area around here is not a typically healthy stand,” said John Ziegler, fire management officer with the two parks, as he pointed to a group of sequoias surrounded by smaller mixed pines. “A more typical stand would have more open canopy and less tree density.”

It’s one of the reasons why the park has carried out prescribed burns around the area for more than 50 years.

“One of our goals with doing prescribed burning is actually returning the tree density to a more historic tree density which would probably be five times less dense than this,” Ziegler said.

Ziegler’s words appear to be backed by the sight of the forest around the grove itself. In areas where park employees have carried out prescribed burns, the groves and stands of trees are largely green, not without scarring, but no higher than a few feet up on some of the trucks.

Where the forest is thicker, blackened stumps the size of cars and thin-charred stakes that were probably once conifer or spruce trees shoot up from the ground.

The two zones contrast sharply: one resembles a forest tourists would expect to come across on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada. The other wouldn’t be out of place in a dark fairy tale, as if a dragon had recently passed by and conducted scorched warfare tactics on the land.

“One of the reasons we started prescribed burning in the 1960s is because the [thicker] forest was reducing the regeneration of sequoias,” Caprio said. “They couldn’t regenerate when there was little shade and a thick layer [of vegetation] on the floor.”

Following a fire, he said, it’s not uncommon to see tiny sequoia seeds scattered across the ground.

Sequoia’s pine cones need fire, or an intense amount of heat, to release their seeds. Cones on the forest floor encounter flames easily during a fire.

For the cones still in the trees, fire on the forest floor will send heat to the crown of the sequoia. The heat and smoke dries out the cones, which then open and release their seeds.

The Rough Fire exacerbated this effect greatly, according to park officials.

“It looked like someone had taken oatmeal and just scattered it all over the ground,” Caprio said. “I’ve never seen clusters like that.”

Caprio said the mortality rate of the seeds was high. “When a tree is here for 1,000 years, it only has to replace itself one time.”

The seeds, now that they’ve had a year to germinate and reap the benefits of a cold, wet winter, jut from the soft soil like toothpicks.

The saplings are everywhere, if one knows where to look. They are thinner than a finger and stand barely three quarters of an inch in height. Once the eye is trained on them, it’s impossible to not see the saplings springing up all over the grove.

And they will soon be much easier to spot, according to park officials. The saplings only need time, another good winter and canopy space to grow and thrive.

“These guys, by end of the year, may be three- or four-inches tall,” Caprio said
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