Fire Ecology

Wildfire is a natural and vital part of California ecosystems.  Both plant and animal communities have adapted to naturally occuring wildfire and require fire to germinate, reproduce, or nurture their young, including endemic manzanita found only in California, and fire-chaser beetles that can detect the infrared radiation of fire and swarm towards it.  Additionally, burned trees provide habitat for birds. Fire prepares soil for new growth by burning older or diseased trees into nutrient-rich ash, returning their stored carbon back to the soil. As fires remove undergrowth, more sunlight reaches the forest floor, encouraging growth.and regulates invasive species that compete with native vegetation for resources. Fire disturbance is a reset button for California’s unique ecology.

The Preserve’s coastal redwoods are highly resistant to fire. A year after a spate of fires swept northern and central California in 2008, scientists observed redwoods that had been scorched were covered anew in green foliage. 

Historically, land managers underestimated the importance of fire and called for its active suppression. When wildfires are suppressed,  dry fuel builds up creating conditions for a much more intense and less manageable fire. These are the catastrophic events that damage human and natural communities. The more intense fire can burn out organic material in soil, promoting erosion and contribute to complementary natural disasters like landslides.

After a fire, a forest goes through a process called ecological succession, which refers to the stages a forest goes through to return to a healthy mature forest.  The first colonizing species after a fire are intrepid herbaceous species like grasses and weeds. Shrubs arrive next. More cautious, slower growing trees arrive behind them, followed by early successional trees like pines.  Ultimately, longer lived hardwoods such as oak and hickory join the community, supplying forest canopy.

Indigenous California people understood the benefits of fire and actively used it to cultivate plant diversity at various stages of succession.  Today, the U.S. Forest Service is working with indigenous Californian leaders to revitalize fire management practices that preserved watersheds, eased the effects of drought and created fire barriers, including the use of controlled burns to promote useful plants and discourage larger, more intense fires. 

On The Preserve, we regularly work with experts in wildfire management, and the majority of full time staff are red card certified wildland firefighters.

Post-fire Recovery

Just a few years after the Soberanes Fire, impacted areas around The Preserve are recovering. This image features an area that was burned in the fire, in full bloom today. Fire clears out dead plant matter and is important for some plant species to germinate. Read more about Soberanes response and recovery.