Burn Intensity in the Rim Fire

I ventured into the Rim Fire, where access is (still) very limited, and found a variety of conditions. Along Evergreen Road, on the way into the Hetch Hetchy area of Yosemite National Park, I first saw an area that had a prescribed burn accomplished, a few years ago. A “windshield survey” of that saw that there were plenty of trees surviving. I wasn’t surprised to see scattered mortality. It remains to be seen how many of these green trees already have bark beetles in them. In fact, I’m sure that some trees have changed color since I was there, in late April.

Farther up the road, near the historic Camp Mather, I saw this managed area and wondered why it didn’t survive very well. You can see that understory trees were cut, reducing the ladder fuels. Farther up the gentle slope there appears to be some survivors. All of the trees in this picture are likely candidates for bark beetles, and the green ones can support more than one generation. We are already seeing accelerated bark beetle mortality outside of the fire’s perimeter.

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I scanned around, looking for a reason why the stand had so much mortality. Looking across the road, down the hill, I saw the reason why. It is pretty clear that this stand hadn’t seen any management, and the hot wind from the fire pushed the crown fire across the road. Some of those trees were simply just “cooked” by the hot gases, blowing through their crowns. While I have seen these fire-resilient pines sprout some buds the next spring, few of them survive through the next summer, for multiple reasons.

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With over 250,000 acres burned, of course there will be a varied mosaic, with lots of examples of things we like to talk about, no matter what your point of view is. I will post more examples of what I saw in future posts.

4 Comments

  1. Those crowns look a little close to me. Some actual spacing might have helped. But you are probably right about the blast effect. I was just up last month on a salvage in the Jocko basin on CSKT reservation lands. There was an SMZ strip where no salvage will happen, and on about a 50 percent hill. But just above the road were some p pine, nice size, and all their needles were locked in a blown-back position, simply baked in place.

    • Remember, this is the Stanislaus, where timber management is WAY down the list of priority preferences. This area is also so very close to both Yosemite and Camp Mather so, maybe the spacing requirements were much closer.

      https://www.google.com/maps/@41.3074377,-121.7624475,428m/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en

      All these dead trees in the photos will be cut as hazard trees, since they are close enough to hit the road. All of Camp Mather is on Forest Service land so, I’d expect a thorough salvage plan, to remove the hazards to the sprawling campground and cabin complex. It appeared to burn at a moderate intensity.

      I wonder how long it will be before people want to come back and recreate at Camp Mather, after the logging is complete.

      I do know what you mean by those “frozen needles”. I have seen where fire-generated winds were so hot and strong that the needles were frozen in place, showing the direction and intensity of those hot winds.

    • Even if the Forest Service were to cut all commercially-viable areas in the Rim Fire, there would still be PLENTY of prime habitat for every BBW in all of California. I also wonder whether the contiguous nature of the Yosemite portion makes it even better. It’s not like the pairs need to be territorial. I’m also not convinced that they need thick and untouched snag habitat to survive. Yes, I once saw a cavity nest right next to one of the pathways leading to Glacier Point, in Yosemite National Park. They gave it a good 6 foot buffer from the tourists.

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