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Friday, October 07, 2022

Life returns to California’s Sierra Nevada after fire

LONE PINE, Calif. ( Associated Press) – The flames are going out. Firefighters put out the last embers. One last smoke dissolves in the air.

Wildfires are over in California’s wilderness, and what’s left is a dark landscape of skeleton pines and leafless oaks, scorched meadows and wood ash where the plants once stood.

Then, slowly, life returns.

A year after a wind-driven fire raged in the mountains above California’s Lone Pine, a lit corner of Inyo National Forest can see glimpses of new vegetation. The site is a mountaineering, climbing, and fishing area approximately 350 miles (563 kilometers) southeast of San Francisco.

Tiny specks of white and purple flowers stand out among the bare pine, many of which have lost their bark in the fire. Thin-leaved green shoots of horsetail make their way into the ground under the bare branches of a tree. A handful of new leaves emerge like a bouquet from the burnt stubble.

It is the beginning of a long recovery, a cycle that is repeating itself more frequently in the western United States as climate change brings drought, warmer weather and more wildfires.

Fires burn with varying intensities, ravaging a landscape. Some of the large trees on the hill are dead, while others are only damaged and can recover. Typically, the first plants to reappear after a fire have become more resistant to fire over time.

“Some shrub and other herb species are more adapted to fire, and they can return faster,” said Todd Ellsworth, fire restoration program manager at the US Forest Service.

But it may be five years before the ground cover was the same as before the flames. A group of pinyon pines without needles and with burnt trunks were badly damaged, and would not reappear.

“Conifers don’t come back very quickly,” Ellsworth said, referring to pine and other coniferous trees. Sometimes it is up to forest managers to go and replant them.

Small, delicate flowers and new shoots in a shady landscape among brown rock reminded us that fire is part of the ecosystem in California, also in the eastern Sierra Nevada where that fire started.

Firefighters said they used minimal-impact techniques to combat the flames because “natural fires play an important role in maintaining landscapes in these areas.”

Some species flower only after a fire.

In the burned area, near the path of Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the United States at 4,421 m (14,505 ft), live the Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep, an endangered species, and the Bark Pine White, a candidate for endangered species.

Reports and press releases for June and July 2021 attributed the fire to lightning and noted that a 600-acre (243-hectare) wind-driven fire forced evacuations and caused evacuations from nearby roads, camping areas and areas. Cut off access to the trails. Firefighters used helicopters to drop water on the fire, which was burning in a steep area.

The effects of climate change on forest regeneration can be significant.

A 2018 study published in the journal Ecology Letters, which analyzed nearly 1,500 burned forest settings, found that due to hot, dry climates, some forests regain their pre-fire mix of trees, and In some cases the trees do not come back.

Wildfires have become bigger and more intense, killing more trees, and burning more frequently, said Camille Stevens-Ruman, an assistant professor at Colorado State University and co-author of the study.

“We have a lot of places that probably have a different climate than those (coniferous) species were established in,” he said, “so they may have a harder time recovering after a fire.”

If a dry, hot climate is unsuitable for those trees to come back, he said, “they won’t bounce back.”

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