Aftermath of Wild Fires
What are the long-term affects on the ecology of the landscape?
If the insects and fauna have been decimated, will the plants grow too abundantly without wildlife to keep them from overproducing? Will this cause more tree diseases? Exactly what are the effects of the fire, smoke, ash and consequent winter rains upon organisms in the soil? Would it be wiser to replant only native plants? Wouldn't there be adaptable non-native species which would be more fire resistant than some of the chaparral plants that turn into ready kindling every hot dry summer?
I discussed some of these nagging questions with my son-in-law, Scott. He was a soil specialist for the State and previous owner of one of the first organic landscaping businesses located in the Los Angeles area. He comments that fire has always been considered a natural characteristic component of the California ecosystem. Many plants and animals thrive or perish in its wake as a natural course in the scheme of things. Fires like these occurred long before the country was inhabited by humans. The dry season throughout the summer provides the right kindling. Thunderstorms producing lightning can ignite the kindling long before enough rain can soak the soil. Hence, the natural way of things is wildfires which used to burn themselves out.
In the aftermath of wild fires, the reproductive capabilities of rare plant species and the spread of invasive exotic plants are of particular concern, and it would be wiser, if possible, to replant all native plants. Yet, in the expanses of wild lands, spring plants and flowers are diverse after a fire and provide an abundant source of food which may help to replenish the range and numbers of various species. As caretakers of our lands, we must determine what is the best action to take in order to restore the land to healthy reproductivity.
Scott points out that some native plants naturally hold more moisture and are less likely to encourage fire to spread. Some naturally thrive due to the after-effects of fire such as soil enriched by ash or simply because enough has been burned away that there is now room for new plants to grow. Many non-native plants may have been destroyed, and it is best not to attempt replacing them. As a previous student of fire science Scott assured me that the fire retardant dropped from airplanes onto the hillsides are not poisonous chemicals, but safe for the land and rich in nitrogen and potassium. Therefore, helpful to increasing verdant re-growth.
Scott also related an experience he had during one of the fires, which, if could be simulated, would make a lot of money for some insecticide company. He told me that the week before the fires, he had been treating one of his neighbor's properties for an infestation of whiteflies with an organic product that takes several applications over a period of weeks. Scott spent a great deal of time observing the fires in his own neighborhood before evacuation. He was struck by the incredible thickness of the smoke which permeated everything. After the fires subsided, he returned to make the follow-up application on the whiteflies, only to discover that they were completely gone, with no further signs of infestation. And there have been no recurrences since then. Scott came to the conclusion that the smoke was the cause of their demise. Now, if only we could bottle that pest cure!! Perhaps we just need to smoke them out!
I have come to the conclusion that it is a more complicated subject than can be answered with simplicity. It is a lot like Philosophy. All answers lead to other questions.
Note: the picture is of one of the large Redwood trees that grow in the vicinity. This one is only a couple hundred years old, yet it is large enough for a man to seem minuscule standing before it.
Posted by Elizabeth Munroz