How is the Reserve Doing 3 Years After the Fire? (12.12.2018)

In December, I visited Stebbins along with two UC Davis Natural Reserves directors: Jeffrey Clary (Associate Director) and Sarah Oktay (Director of Strategic Engagement and Stebbins Cold Canyon Director).  They graciously agreed to walk some of the creek trail with me to tell me about how the fire response at the reserve has compared to expectations and answer the questions that I’ve had over the last few years of site visits.

Following are pages from my sketchbook outlining our discussion, written and illustrated after the fact.  At the end of this post, I’ve included the field notes I made during our walk.

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Text from page 1:

1. The fire follower whispering bells (Emmenanthe penduliflora) was out in large numbers after the fire and hadn’t been seen at the reserve since the last fire 30 years ago.

2. Seedlings of buckbrush (Ceanothus cuneatus) were only seen this last spring (2018), which was three springs after the fire.  It may be that they had reseeded/germinated earlier, but only just became noticeable.

3. Hairy-leaf ceanothus (C. oliganthus) should also be in the reserve.  It may be up in the high draws and less obvious.

4. It is unclear how the manzanitas in the reserve are doing – there has not been a lot of resprouting or reseeding (parry manzanita, Arctostaphylos parryana).

5. Red ribbons (Clarkia concinna) can be seen regularly in the reserve, but never before in the numbers in which it was present the two springs after the fire.  It is usually only up on the slopes and showed up both on the slopes and in the canyon after the fire.

6. The interior live oaks (Quercus wislizeni) in the canyon are doing pretty well with resprouting but it is not as clear how well the blue oaks (Q. douglasii) uphill are doing.  Blue oaks tend to grow on the hillsides and live oaks in the canyon – blue oaks have a higher tolerance for low water conditions than do live oaks.

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Text from page 2:

7. Many of the gray pines (Pinus sabiniana) were completely killed by the fire.  Gray pines are relatively intolerant to fire but return to the area easily in between fires.

8. American robins (Turdus migratorius) come in all at once and eat the berries off of the toyons (Heteromeles arbutifolia) over a couple of days.

9. Species composition in the reserve is back to about 80% of what it was before the fire.  The habitat structure is still very different, with much more understory and much less canopy.  Some cover has come back by now, though, and wildflowers were already much less numerous last spring than in the first two springs after the fire.

10. Chaparral currant (Ribes malvaceum) will be blooming soon.

11. The perennial vines in the reserve (wild cucumber – Marah fabaceus; western morning glory – Calystegia occidentalis; pipestem clematis – Clematis lasianthus) are less numerous in the mature community than they have been in the years right after the fire, when there has been abundant light and climbing support in the form of bare branches.

12. Yerba santa (Eriodictyon californicum) seeds germinate readily after fire and can also resprout after fire.

 

Here are the field notes I took while we walked (color added later):

fieldnotesall_2018dec12

October Visit (10/8/2017): View from the Trailhead

Having been on the other side of the country, I missed a spring trailhead view of Stebbins this year.  It was great to draw another fall view this October, just over three years since the fire.

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Here is the view from September 2017:

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And the previous four (March 2017, September 2016, March 2016 and September 2015):

TrailheadView2_2017Apr01_sm   closedtrailhead2_2016sep29_sm

coldcanyonclosedtrailheadv2_2016mar23_sm    coldcanyonclosedtrailheadv2_2015sep11_sm

September Visit (9/8/2017): View from the Trailhead

Just over two years after the fire, here is the view from the old trailhead.  Trees and hillsides are looking considerably greener, even at the end of summer.  Some of this is due to the wetter winter last year, but shrub and tree regrowth is also responsible.  Vines of wild cucumber and wild grape are taking advantage of the shrub skeletons that remain bare – many vines are visible in the middle distance in this painting – but shrub resprouting and reseeding is also widely in evidence throughout the reserve.

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The view in April 2017:

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The view in September 2016:

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The view in March 2016:

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The view in September 2015:

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Winters Fire (July 6-8, 2017)

Near the beginning of what is likely to be an intense fire season, the area north of Cold Canyon that has burned twice before over the past four years was in flames again.  A total of 2,269 acres burned north of Highway 128 near Winters over three days in early July:

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This map shows all of the fires in the area between 2014 and 2016:

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While fire is a necessary component of a healthy ecosystem, when the same area burns repeatedly with only short intervals between fires, seed banks are destroyed and trees that might have survived a single fire are unable to recover enough to withstand the next fire.  We still have a couple of months or more of hot dry weather, and plenty of extra fuel this year as a result of the wet winter.  I will be surprised if there are not more fires in this area this year.

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April Visit (4/1/2017): View from the Trailhead

Approximately a year and six months after the fire, it is apparent that the crowns of many of the trees near the trailhead have filled in considerably.  There is also a lot more vegetation on the ground than there was in March a year ago.  Chaparral shrubs are resprouting from their bases, but I have noticed this winter and spring that vines (wild cucumber, wild grape) are responsible for a lot of the newest greenery on the hillsides, growing up the trunks of the burned shrubs.

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The view September 2016:

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March 2016:

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September 2015:

coldcanyonclosedtrailheadv2_2015sep11_sm

September Visit (9/29/2016) 3 of 3

Having established a pattern of drawing the view at the trailhead every six months, I am posting the drawing for September 2016, just a over a year after the fire.  Although plenty of charred tree and shrub branches are still in evidence, new growth in tree crowns and from the bases of both trees and shrubs stands out starkly against the summer-yellowed hillsides.

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The view in March 2016:

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The view in September 2015:

coldcanyonclosedtrailheadv2_2015sep11_sm

Moth Collecting with John De Benedictis (5/18/2016)

John De Benedictis, a Research Fellow at the Richard M. Bohart Museum of Entomology, has been collecting moths twice a month at dusk in Cold Canyon since 1989.  I accompanied him for the first part of his visit on May 18.  John sets up a sheet across the path at the entrance to the Reserve, and sometimes a second sheet parallel to the path (and perpendicular to the first sheet), when accompanied by Greg Kareofelas, a Research Affiliate at the Bohart Museum.  John hangs a fluorescent light against the sheet, which transmits unfiltered UV light, a mixture of UV and white light.

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John collects the moths that land on the sheet for later identification.  John started his work in Cold Canyon three years after the last major wildfire and is watching closely to see how moth populations respond after the Wragg Fire.  May is the month in which he has recorded the most moth species over the years; on a good night, he collects about a third of the species known to fly at that time of year.  The numbers collected this May will be a good indication of how depleted the populations are after the fire.

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When John first started collecting in 1989, not long after the previous fire at the Reserve, he observed that Sparganothis senecionana was numerous.  S. senecionana is a tortricid that prefers to feed on low-growing plants.  Over time, as fire recovery progressed, the numbers of S. senecionana decreased, while those of Archips argyrospila, the fruit tree leafroller (also Tortricidae), increased.  A. argryrospila feeds on a number of plants including oaks, but seems more abundant in areas with oaks, and their numbers seem to have followed oak regrowth in the Reserve.  This pattern now appears to be repeating after the Wragg Fire: John has observed that Archips numbers are considerable lower since the fire, along with the numbers of other oak-associated moths, indicating that they have been hard-hit by the fire and the loss of oaks.

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