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Fire Limits: Sequoia Kings

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Fire Limits: Sequoia Kings

Postby gdurkee » Tue Oct 16, 2007 8:09 pm

Eeeeek. Just out of the woods and going through all the fun posts I missed. I hate to fire people up again (heh, heh, heh) but it might be useful to explain some of the why's and wherefore's of fire limits in Sequoia Kings and some of the Sierra.

A couple of folks had it right: for alpine elevations -- the fire limits are not established because of the danger of wildfires. They're there for resource protection and aesthetics. At alpine levels (over, say, 9,000 feet in the central and southern Sierra) not that much woody debris & pine needles etc. falls for soil development. It doesn't take many campers to consume even the small amount that does accumulate. In 2001 I did a series of wood transects between Tyndall and Crabtree, including controls. In the areas used by campers, there was literally no wood or even twigs out for a distance of 200 feet. The control areas (no campers) had a lot of wood, pine needles and subsequent soil development. Campfires were banned the following year, as exceptions to the otherwise elevational limit of 11,200 feet in the Kern.

Five years later, there is still almost no litter & soil developing in those areas. It takes decades.

Next: One of the reasons the Inyo banned fires on their side in the southern Sierra, was the importance of Foxtail Pine in developing a tree ring record. Some of those sticks and branches people were burning were as old as 8,000 years (which also gives you an idea of how slowly they decay...). The tree ring records from Foxtail and other trees in the Kern area has been a huge help in recreating a climate record for the last 8,000 + years.

Finally, it's also a matter of aesthetics. One of the comments in the posts was about the black fire scar on the rock. That's exactly right. Part of the idea of wilderness is a feeling of being the only person to visit a place -- often a polite fiction, but it's important to almost everyone and the less impact we have on an area, the more people get to experience the Sierra as it was before heavy human use. The other unfortunate thing is that fire rings become a magnet for garbage -- melted plastic, "burned" freeze dried aluminum packaging; a zillion bits of aluminum. If rangers don't reduce them (and we spend most of our lives doing just that) they steadily grow to 3 + foot high monuments of rock, old charcoal, garbage and dirt. In the open alpine areas, these fire rings are too often a major eyesore and distraction from a natural wilderness setting.

As a result of campfire bans, education, really cooperative campers, and the endless work of rangers (ta da!!), a repeat of campsite inventory (originally done in the 70s) this year shows that the number of sites has been reduced by 30% or more; that the camps are smaller in size; that there are fewer "improvements" (benches; rock tables; wind breaks etc.); fewer scars on trees from axes & nails) and etc. People are doing a much better job with minimum impact.

To a certain extent, I agree that there's been some "nickel and diming" of fire regulations -- especially in the Kern of Sequoia Park. The fire limit is 11,200 feet. But that is literally tree line and well into the vital Foxtail forest. Instead of making a more understandable limit of, say, 9,000 feet or something (down into lodgepole forest where there's a lot of forest litter and soil development), NPS has carved out these not very understandable exceptions.

Hope that helps.


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Postby Strider » Wed Oct 17, 2007 6:52 am

Welcome back!

I think most of us believe in minimal impact, and realize that gaseous pollution is just as harmful as solid or liquid pollution. I don't even make fires when car-camping anymore.

We appreciate all that you do to keep the Sierras pristine.
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Postby hikerduane » Wed Oct 17, 2007 3:59 pm

Years ago in Desolation, fires were banned. I have noticed a difference there and personally, I usually don't have a fire because I can spend more time fishing and come home smelling a tiny bit better. Too, firewood was getting scarce in Desolation where for years, that was the only place I went and I cooked over a tiny fire. I have an occasional campfire now, but only where firewood is plentiful and feel up to gathering the wood. When I go car camping for a weekend, I do bring firewood from home, that is the thing to do when car camping. I only car camp a weekend every few years so I don't see a problem with people having a campfire in those conditons. I do hate to see high fire pits with all the rocks encased in the cinders/ash and bits of garbage in there too especially the bits of aluminum. Then there are the people who don't put the fire out. Arrg! Last summer doing the Rae Lakes Loop, I had to pack water up from the river at Lower Paradise Valley CG to put it out. Why does anyone need a fire going in the middle of a hot day? High school age kids.
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Removing Campfire Rings

Postby cmon4day » Wed Oct 17, 2007 7:16 pm

I agree with the previous posts regarding the smoke stains on rocks caused by a fire built so close. On my backpack trips I ususally remove a dozen or so campfire rings every time. Most off my trips are cross country and it kills me to see a fire ring. I carry plastic grocery bags and a small shovel, (you know the small orange one), and if I come across a fire ring I destroy it by scattering the rocks. I then fill the plastic bag and then go and look for a crevace in the rocks to dump the ashes, removing most of the aluminum foil and pack it out. On the main trails, I try and remove ashes out of an existing fire ring so it doesn't get so high.

Now when I go backpacking I love to have a fire. To me its part of the wilderness experience. When I do, it usually is small and I wait to the last minute to start the fire.

Just trying to do my part to keep my beloved Sierras pristine.

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Postby TwoFortyJeff » Thu Oct 18, 2007 5:25 pm

Did you work at the McClure station? I think I met you (or another George) on one of your first days out for the summer. You radioed in a question about fire limits in Sierra and Inyo for me.

Why did the rangers get out there so late this year? Besides an LEO in Yosemite, you were the only one I saw in the backcountry.
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Postby gdurkee » Sun Oct 21, 2007 1:20 pm

Vic: whoa! Keep it up. In any given area, there's probably a minimum of 10 fire rings for each camper present -- you can't get rid of too many... . Thanks!

TwoFortyJeff: Yep, that was me. I remember meeting you. The Inyo kept fires closed all summer, but I don't think the Sierra did anything -- don't know why, because they have some serious fuel.

We get in so late because your tax dollars are being spent more wisely elsewhere. Also, not to whimper, but even within NPS, backcountry rangers are not a high priority. Our season has probably been cut about 3 weeks over the last 10 years and there's fewer of us.

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