Is fire a friend or foe? Both, according to local experts.
On Saturday, July 23, Sequoia Riverlands Trust, along with biologists Bobby Kamansky and Jon Keeley of Three Rivers and Rob Hansen of Visalia, provided a tour of the Sycamore Trail at Kaweah Oaks Preserve to discuss the resiliency of the ecosystem despite drought and wildfire.
“Fire is a natural phenomenon that began 440 million years ago,” said Jon Keeley, a fire ecologist with the USGS field station at Ash Mountain. “We have evidence that Native Americans lit deer grass to clear dead plant matter and engender new growth.”
In June, a wildland fire occurred at the preserve. While it burned through dried grass and scorched some of the preserve’s namesake oaks, the experts concurred that in the aftermath of the burn, native plants are sprouting while the growth of invasive species is curtailed.
“There is a ton of re-sprouting despite the lack of rain,” said Kamansky, principal of Kamansky’s Ecological Consulting. “This shows us that native oaks and willows will thrive.”
In the wake of fire, exotic plants don’t rebound like native plants do. Prescribed fires are meant not only to clear dead plant matter, but to eradicate species that displace the native oaks at the preserve.
The expertise of Kamansky has been instrumental in implementing prescribed burns with crews from Cal Fire. Planned burns reintroduce fire to an ecosystem as it may have occurred before human intervention and a policy of suppression.
“One major goal [of prescribed burns] is safety, especially for our firefighters,” said Kamansky. “Wildfires burn hotter and kill four times the trees than prescribed burns. This doesn’t solve all our problems but we are huge advocates.”
At Kaweah Oaks Preserve, SRT has supplemented prescribed fire with the removal of foreign plant species and replanting native species.
“We can never bring [the preserve] back to its natural state before the Lake Kaweah dam was built in 1962,” said Kamansky. “However, we know that native species grow very quickly on these soils.”
Bud Darwin, education and volunteer director, and Anne Huber of Three Rivers, stewardship director, represented the Sequoia Riverlands Trust.
The Kaweah Oaks Preserve was established in 1982 when The Nature Conservancy bought the property from private owner Myrtle Davis Franklin. Recognized for its unique representation of a valley forest in its natural state, the preserve remains a local treasure.
Information about Sequoia Riverlands Trust and upcoming events may be found at www.sequoiariverlands.org.