Recovery after Severe Fire in the Klamath-Siskiyou: What Happens without Planting?

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Summary

The Klamath-Siskiyou forest of southern Oregon and northern California is home to a fire-adapted conifer ecosystem that historically experienced frequent, low-intensity fire. Often the management response to severe fire in the Klamath- Siskiyou includes planting—there is genuine and historical concern that without planting, the conifers will diminish. But David Hibbs and his colleagues at Oregon State University realized that there were very little data on whether these forests require management-based planting to recover. They wondered if natural recovery was possible, even after severe wildfire. The team found a series of severely burned, unmanaged plots, and measured conifer abundance, age, and live-crown ratio. They found that even in unplanted, unmanaged burned forest natural conifer regeneration is reliable and abundant. Recruitment is also ongoing well after the fire. Furthermore, there was little evidence that tree recruitment was affected by distances as great as 400 meters to source trees. Their results suggest that in many cases, planting may not be required to support conifer forest recovery in the Klamath-Siskiyou.


Key Findings

  • On most sites, natural regeneration of conifers was abundant 10 to 20 years after a fire.
  • Natural regeneration of conifers was usually abundant up to 400 meters from living trees. It was difficult to find places more than 400 meters from living trees.
  • Conifers continued regenerating 10 to 15 years after the fire.
  • Natural regeneration was most limited on the drier, hotter low elevation, southern slopes on the eastern Klamath Mountains.
  • Shrub cover was positively associated with seedling growth in the Douglas-fir/tanoak association and negatively in the white fire association.

5 Comments

  1. I just came back from a 15-year revisit to a portion of the Megram/Big Bar Complex Fire, which burned in 1999. It was a 220 square mile burn. I believe the biggest timber fire, in CA history, prior to last year’s Rim Fire.
    I’ve written about the Megram Fire over the years, most recently, in the Sacramento Bee, following a 5-year revisit in 2004.
    My experience differs from what is described in this post. There are extensive areas of the Megram Fire which are now heavy to brush and have little or no conifer regeneration. Specifically, on Lone Pine Ridge (Humboldt County — Six Rivers NF) and into Grizzly Camp and the Trinity Alps Wilderness (Trinity County and NF). There are also extensive areas where there is regeneration — these are usually within 100 yards or so of a living conifer seed source. I can’t tell you how many thousands, or tens of thousands, of acres of former timber stands have now converted to brush, but it’s a lot.
    A court order blocked FS postfire salvage, so nothing happened and there was no reforestation.
    I am skeptical of any report that claims that there isn’t a problem with high severity wildfires converting timber stands to brush fields. This doesn’t comport with my admittedly anecdotal experience, or with R-5 data http://www.fs.usda.gov/detailfull/r5/landmanagement/resourcemanagement/?cid=fsbdev3_047149&width=full.

  2. Additionally, you sometimes will end up with trees of the “wrong” species, for that site, at the “wrong” time, as well. I have seen where, after a large wildfire, white fir seeded in over large areas, bypassing “natural” succession, altogether. The result of that was an overstocked pure white fir stand that was severely impacted by a bark beetle infestation, just 30 years later. Such a stand also makes future thinning projects less effective, due to the residual white fir being less resilient to logging damage.

    In the example of the Rim Fire, we have seen 40 years of persistent brushfields in every spot where “nature took its course”. Now, they have burned again, at moderate to high intensity. I don’t think we need to try that failed experiment, yet again. We have seen the same result in the A-Rock and Big Meadow (and now the El Portal) Fires. Is this not enough proof?

  3. Re: “On most sites, natural regeneration of conifers was abundant 10 to 20 years after a fire”
    –> Yup! If you are a “mankind can’t do anything right” sort of person, the accompanying 5 to 15 years of soil erosion is acceptable.

  4. I am a commercial salmon troller. My interest in that fire area is that it now appears that the whole of the Salmon River drainage has been burned, and we have reports of spring chinook die offs in that stream beginning two months ago. The only shade is aspect, and in late spring and early summer, the sun is directly overhead. It is now September, and the sun has fallen far enough to the south that there is a lot more shade in draws and canyons and less heating of water. Frosts are happening at elevation, and that cold air runs down the canyons and streams and cools water. Rains are coming. All will be well, or so I would hope. An Oregon offshore salmon troller exists on Sacramento River hatchery chinooks and Klamath River chinooks, both hatchery and wild, and from Humbug Mountain to the CA border, trolling is very limited and the catch is monitored and regulated to protect harvest of Klamath River stocks and to have fish enough for a vigorous and viable Indian fishery every year. There were a couple of openings in August from Humbug to the CA border where the limit for commercials was 18 salmon per day, two days per week, and you had to phone in an hour before you landed your fish. Klamath and Trinity River salmon drive the limits to fishing and seasons. I have a dog in the fight, and my dog is secondary to Indian rights to custom and culture. I accept that. But that does not take the fight out of the dog after that is recognized and accepted. I want them to have fish aplenty so that I, too, might have some fish. Westlands Irrigation District does not have one whit of care for Indian rights and customs and culture. Greedy Mega Ag at its worst. Essentially ten or so big outfits with lots of old money and willing to screw anyone who gets in their way. The purchasers of politics and politicians in California. When you rob a watershed of 98% of its water, 500 river miles to the north, to over irrigate a rain shadow desert, you must feel entitled and above the laws and social order. I am pleased the Federal Courts are not taking their view of the laws they thought they wrote and their compliant Congressional representation thought they had provided.

    So the Westlands Irrigation District: 600,000 acres of SW Central Valley desert that believes it has an entitlement to 5 acre feet of water per acre of land, most of it from the Trinity Reservoir in the Klamath River watershed, on the North Fork of the Trinity River. This last week the WID asked for an injunction to stop BurRec from releasing 22,000 acre feet of water out of Trinity Reservoir to flow to the lower Klamath to cool the water and stem the warm water parasites to allow for salmon survival until fall rains raise and cool the river. The judge this time (WID tried earlier this year and last to stop releases) said that mere farmers were not as worthy as salmon, a species in need of that water which they would have had naturally without the machinations of man. Injunctive relief denied. The ace up the lower Klamath tribes’ sleeve, they who file amicus briefs to deny WID injunctions as they have standing contractually and naturally, is the adjudication process that gave the Upper Klamath Tribes in Oregon the first, primary, water right for the entirety of the Klamath watershed in Oregon. I am sure the Federal Courts would not stop that legal precedent at the state border of CA and OR. WID is in a different ball game if they press their case because I really do believe the Tribes of the Lower Klamath in CA would get the first water right to the entirety of the Trinity and Klamath Rivers and perhaps even the Eel River. And WID would have to buy, if they got water at all. Expensive water. And limited amounts. They had 65% of the North Fork Trinity water and somehow managed to make that into 98% of annual flow over time. When the courts ended that comfortable BurRec (Dept of Interior—political patronage job leading Bur Rec—and WID theft of water foiled by Sec Babbitt in Clinton’s last year in office as it was he who stopped the freebie give away) deal, WID was getting as much as 98% of the annual flow. To be able to release more water to the river as per court order, Bur Rec and Corps of Engineers had to actually build a new channel for the N. Fork Trinity below the lower bumping dam that diverts the water through tunnels in the coast range to the Sacramento River, making electricity in power houses at the ends of water plunging great distances through massive penstocks. ( Everybody got something but the Indians and salmon: construction cartels, power interests, irrigation interests, financial interests, all made tens of millions, maybe billions, stealing the water from salmon and Indians ) Track hoes ripped out trees and moved gravel so the newly released water had a viable channel after several decades of almost no water releases. Now there is an artificial spring freshet water release every year for six weeks to move fall fingerlings to the Pacific in enough water to avoid heavy avian predation. Now the WID only gets its contracted 65% of the annual flow, or less in drought years, and the Federal Courts have reserved some of that for salmon if needed. That was the reason for WID asking for injunctive relief. Self interest.

    Since the Eel River water is in FERC negotiations about relicensing a PGE dam which diverts water from the Eel to the Russian River, which in turn is diverted to Napa Valley and to Marin county, thus making all three of the major watersheds on the Northern California coast having water diverted OUT OF THEIR WATERSHEDS to serve urban populations and wine country amenities, we who fish for salmon now exist primarily on hatchery raised fish in the artificial watersheds of northern and central California, the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers that once supported the largest runs of chinook salmon in the world. Depleted to almost zip just ten years into the Gold Rush. Along with oysters coast wide and salmon on the Columbia and Fraser Rivers. All were overharvested to feed California markets. So when the hue and cry from the likes of Koehler about wilderness on fish precluding, dammed rivers, is heard, I do wish he would also note that wilderness that has no connectivity for native aquatic life to the sea, to its watershed, its logical and ultimate end, is incomplete. The Trinity and Klamath Rivers have wilderness. The Eel and Russian Rivers have wilderness in the watershed. And wilderness produced water diverted to producing a good cab or zin at the expense of native salmon. Or in the WID, almonds. How is the Clearwater in Idaho different? Put the rivers under a reservoir and the river dammed without working fish ladders, can you really have “wilderness” upstream?

    The Salmon and Trinity River watersheds of the Klamath River are super important salmon producers. Brush fields are not going to produce viable salmon habitats. They limit snow moisture to the rivers as they suspend snow in the air to sublimate, not letting the snow melt and go to ground to be runoff, water for the creeks. They limit species diversity and vegetation diversity. And reburn in time. Hot. Then destructive erosion occurs once again. Look at the entirety of the perimeter of SoCal and LA. Permanent brush fields where once vast pine forests grew along with native American seasonal burners who kept the fuel loads low. Now you can’t run a backyard barbeque or a two cycle yard tool due to the air quality issues of 20 million farting, automobiling humans and their pets, all constrained by antiquated zoning laws that prohibit vertical housing in favor of single family dwellings. Bad air, bad law, and unaffordable housing. And they are the voting majority in CA. The “environmentalists.” No wonder all the water is diverted out of watersheds for their benefit. And the radical environmental left has such good financial support because they envelop their donors with smoke and mirrors. Smoke from intentionally neglected wildlands burning and mirrors reflecting solar power to make electricity and to fry tropical migrants and native birds as they fly through the area in day light, if they have avoid the thousands of whirling white picket fence wind turbines uglifying the landscape. The best intentions of mice and men oft go astray, or something to that end. What happens when a hatchery condor gets macerated by a wind turbine or goes down in flames from the solar mirror fields? The utilities get a pass? A larger tax break?

    After the re-burns, which will come, I do hope the Feds have it within themselves to plant trees in an attempt to have them once again. And I include the nut trees like oaks and chinquapins. Conifers are not the end all and be all of Klamath province forests. I have read the journals of early west coast inhabitants who went to CA from Oregon to the gold fields. That journey was reported to be an easy ride horseback, without the need, except occasionally, to lower your head to clear a limb. No brush. Lots of grass. Enough to trail large cattle herds from Oregon to feed miners. My, how things have changed!! I once set chokers on the edge of a brushfield north of Happy Camp, and the logs that went into the brush field caused me to end the day almost naked as they tore at my rigging pants and shirt all day. I cannot imagine how Indians got through those except to set them afire once more, and be done with it. Thus south slope meadows and grassy prairies. How we are missing those today!! All conifer forests, for miles, was never a natural thing. No were endless brush fields. Indians were here when the forests pioneered the bare land from retreating glaciers and snow fields. They burned early on and never quit until conquered and banished to the Rez. After all, as Phenola Smith once told me (Smith River Indian gal) her grandma went out each fall to burn hazel brush so as to have basket making shoots for next year and the years after. Rancheria or not. Culture and custom made for diversity and less destructive fires. So does planting trees and then managing them. We only need time to have to the result. That takes commitment and good management on the part of the Feds, unfettered by constant litigation from the “defenders.” My opinion. Observations over seven decades plus. And home right now due to an in-season troll shut down for five days. Conservation. I accept that. WID does not.

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