Fire and Vegetation Change in the Yolla Bolly
by Susan Nolan
A recent backpack trip to the Yolla Bolly Wilderness gave an immersion in fire ecology. In Indian times Cedar Basin must have been frequently burned. Someone pointed out that Indians burned to manage vegetation, not for fire control, and that would certainly be true in Cedar Basin, a place that would have been used for summer gathering and hunting, not a place to live year round. (Both the Wailaki and the Wintun used that area.) The early ranchers who ran cattle up there continued the burning regime to keep pastures clear.
But as the young Forest Service gained traction it suppressed fire to preserve timber resources. Protected from their greatest natural enemy, trees began filling in the grassland. It was quite striking to me on this trip that so many of the trees are young, short and pointy-topped.
There are scattered old growth trees. Their progency crowd around them:
You can see this tree grew up without near neighbors by the dead lower branches remaining on the trunk—those would have been shed much earlier in shade. With more frequent fires, the little trees would have been killed off.
An interesting spot is Saunder’s Place, a small stand of old growth next to an unusual meadow, very near a creek, a natural campsite. Note size of red backpack. Looking south.
Looking north across the meadow from within the small grove, you can see dense young trees filling in:
I bet the Wintu had a name for Saunder’s Place too; it is definitely a place. And reading the forest, it looks like in their day this little grove stood by itself in a mostly open grassland.
San Francisco Chronicle, April 30, 2020:
A fervid new push is being made to protect and restore previously clear-cut coast redwood forests after studies documented how they store more carbon than any other tree, a characteristic that researchers believe could be used as a bulwark against global warming.
The idea by Save the Redwoods League, a San Francisco nonprofit that has been the state’s most ardent defender of the giant trees since 1918, is to manage the cut-over forests in a way that would augment growth, biodiversity and make the standing groves more economically valuable than they are as lumber.
Save The Redwoods League Press Release, April 30, 2020:
Research from Save the Redwoods League and Humboldt State University Confirms Significant Role of Redwood Forests in California’s Climate Fight
Newly published research from Save the Redwoods League and Humboldt State University (HSU) confirms the exceptionally large role that redwood forests can play in California’s strategy to address climate change. The research demonstrates that old-growth coast redwood forests store more carbon per acre than any other forest type. Forests of giant sequoia, coast redwoods’ closest relative, come in second. The findings cap 11 years of research through the League’s Redwoods and Climate Change Initiative (RCCI), which has also revealed that younger second-growth coast redwood forests grow quickly enough to result in substantial carbon storage in a relatively short period. This makes a strong case for investing in the restoration of previously logged redwood forests.