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.
The view in March 2016:
The view in September 2015:
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.
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.
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.
Because the green hills will not last long, I wanted to capture the great difference in the view at the trailhead in March compared to last September. The charred trees and shrubs stand out starkly against the vibrant green new growth. Here is the view March 23:
And here is the view from last September 11:
The Wragg Fire started just over the ridge to the west of Cold Canyon, rushing quickly over the hill and down into the canyon. Once there, it remained in the canyon, generating winds that caused it to cycle within the canyon, according to Jeffrey Clary, Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve Manager. This greatly increased the intensity of burning in the canyon. The differences in fire intensity across the landscape burned will lead to interesting opportunities to compare rates and types of regrowth in the coming years.
Between July 22 and August 5, 2015, the Wragg Fire burned over 8,000 acres in Napa and Solano Counties, including the entirety of the Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve near Lake Berryessa.
On July 28, driving home in Davis, I happened to notice a new large plume of smoke, further south than where I had seen smoke previously. This was the day the fire reignited, after having been at 80% containment. It took another seven days to reach full containment.
As I stood at the side of the road watching, an air tanker flew overhead, heading away from the fire.
A couple of days earlier, I had seen the completely burned hillside west of Winters, making a stark contrast with the hills in their usual summer gold and green to the north.