The Dirt on the King Fire

This short video shows how soils were affected by the recent King Fire in California. Poor quality video (at least as far as the cameraman’s aiming skills go), but worth a look and would be a great learning tool for folks who don’t understand fire effects. The soil may wash off of the slopes, but there is plenty of black-backed woodpecker habitat….


King Fire leaves dessicated soil behind

15 thoughts on “The Dirt on the King Fire”

  1. Those soils have lost their organic matter, leaving the hydrophobic layer of “moon dust”. Yes, accelerated erosion and reduced soil productivity is yet another feature of the preservationist’s desire to have “larger and more intense wildfires”. I predict that salvage plans won’t be ambitious, as the Rubicon River canyon is mostly “protected” wildlife PACs, despite their loss of eco-function. This fire was neither “natural”….. nor “beneficial”.

  2. Hydrophobic soils don’t occur in ‘natural’ fires? The video reminds me of the old days when fire was considered inherently evil.

  3. According to the Forest Service planning rule, soils “damage” is DESIRABLE if within the natural range of variation. So it depends.

    “This balance is probably skewed toward the negative effects when our planning horizons are shorter
    and when forests are in an unnaturally flammable condition.” (Ice)

    Planning horizons tend to be shorter for utilitarian uses. The Forest Service planning process requires planning for long-term sustainability. So I would expect forest plans to deal with unnaturally flammable conditions if they exist (using best available scientific information of course).

    • Well, of course some people continue to insist that there is no “unnaturally flammable condition”, ever. Their mindset is simple, always preferring a hands-off policy, no matter what. We’ve seen Hanson and the CBD bemoan salvage logging as an extinction event for spotted owls (and goshawks) but, they love to proclaim their desire for bigger and more intense wildfires, ignoring the “collateral damages” to many other resources and “protected” areas. THIS is where the preservationists will fail, in the public’s eyes. Hope is not a solution for the problems in man’s forests…… (Yes, I said it!)

  4. Related to salvage logging, an interesting article here (“Reburn severity in managed and unmanaged vegetation in a large wildfire”), published in PNAS (some would say about the most prestigious scientific journal, though not everyone thinks so, me for instance, but still it’s a good journal).

    Here’s the abstract: “Debate over the influence of postwildfire management on future fire severity is occurring in the absence of empirical studies. We used satellite data, government agency records, and aerial photography to examine a forest landscape in southwest Oregon that burned in 1987 and then was subject, in part, to salvage-logging and conifer planting before it reburned during the 2002 Biscuit Fire. Areas that burned severely in 1987 tended to reburn at high severity in 2002, after controlling for the influence of several topographical and biophysical covariates. Areas unaffected by the initial fire tended to burn at the lowest severities in 2002. Areas that were salvage-logged and planted after the initial fire burned more severely than comparable unmanaged areas, suggesting that fuel conditions in conifer plantations can increase fire severity despite removal of large woody fuels.”

    • Of course, such studies are extremely site specific. What works in one watershed might not work in the adjacent one. AND, salvage logging was never meant to be the scientific savior for post-fire landscapes. Indeed, the entire range of alternatives are always compromises, as the “No Action” alternatives are supposed to show. Another thing opponents of salvage logging do is to use private commercial salvage operations in studies and applying the results to Forest Service burned areas. Finally, the salvage practices have changed a lot since 1987. No one wants to talk about the ample unsalvaged parts of massive wildfires (and salvage plans) that are “left to recover on their own”. Again, blaming the past doesn’t help with the future.

      We do have great examples of the effects of no salvage logging and no replanting. That is the 2 ton elephant in the room that some people try so very hard to ignore.

      • those examples would be good to read, are there some scientific or USFS studies or analysis you could point us to? I’ve just started looking through the literature and my search hasn’t been exhaustive, the article above is just one I happened to find. They talk about an “absence of empirical studies”, but that was 12 years ago so hopefully there’s additional information out there by now.

        • Scientists don’t want to study this issue but, we only need to objectively look at the Foresta area of Yosemite National Park to see the results of re-burns in “protected” areas. We should not be applying an Oregon study into the Sierra Nevada. Fire regimes are obviously quite different, and in the absence of actual longterm studies, we have to go with other ways of determining a post-fire management strategy. We already know the results of a hands-off policy, both inside Yosemite and on the adjacent Stanislaus NF lands. These facts and knowledge can be more easily applied to the King Fire than simply doing nothing, while expecting different results than happened in the past.

          • The Biscuit Fire in Oregon was 500,000 acres. And, it burned through a long time, long term, very sophisticated soils study area in the Babyfoot Lake research natural area. And it burned through and over that area in varying degrees of fire severity and temperatures. And the study was long term enough that controls were established in the record. There was a base line for measurement of many soils variables, pre fire. Something in the order of over 400 dedicated plots with permanent boundaries of some man made substance. Aluminum tagging. Digital mapping with gps coordinates.

            On some plots where fire was the most severe, inches of soil just vanished. Sucked up in the fire plume. Off to new locations far away. Those areas had no organic matter left. Measured mega loss of nitrogen in the soil. And much more you can read if you find the vast reservoir of information from that research area.

            And other plots just had surface duff burned off. And fire missed some altogether. The mosaic. I guess there was not time enough nor resources enough to have the Hot Shot crews do “burn outs” of interior fuel islands. Talk about hypocritical land management. One facet of USFS praises fire for the mosaic effect while another branch is actively working to make sure there is no mosaic. Or so they report in the press.

            We all have finite lifetimes. Our needs and wants are irrelevant after our passing. We have sophisticated government oversight always in flux due to the political nature of how we govern ourselves. Not so the pre Columbian aboriginals who used fire the maintain the landscape for millennia before Indigenous Peoples Day and before the Italian hired by the Spanish regents to look for new landscapes over which to lord and derive natural resources for the royal larder and treasury started the Post Columbian occupation and genocide.

            For some insane reason, it is governmentally decided and planned to have the same forests and life forms as the pre Columbian forests but within the metes and bounds of European land law, legal title to land, and managed under committee with no fidelity to doing their work within a reasonable time frame. If it is the day to burn in the fall, native burners burned before the USA was even an idea. If fire burned things and land it was not supposed to, only the fire setters’ survival was at stake. “Fair” and “aesthetic” and “rights” were not a part of the conversation. Assurance of new growth and land cleared by fire was paramount to human survival and might be today. Or as some are wont to say: “we can’t get there from here.” And then assume some posture of subservience to “natural” fire, which is a poor substitute for millennia of aboriginal empirical knowledge. Not when you put in your time and at the end is the sure pension and life time benefit no matter if there is a landscape or not. Native Americans “had skin in the game”, and the US Govt employed do not, nor do those in the hire of the myriad NGOs of the environment, led by directors and administrators with high six figure income. There is a difference. There is an issue of urgency no longer present. All those with a dog in the fight due to who signs their paycheck are getting paid.


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