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.

illustratednotes1_2018dec12 2

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.

illustratednotes2_2018dec12 2

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 (10/8/2018): 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.

TrailheadView_2018Oct08 copy_sm

Here is the view from September 2017:

TrailheadView_2017Sep08_sm

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.

TrailheadView_2017Sep08_sm

The view in April 2017:

TrailheadView2_2017Apr01_sm

The view in September 2016:

closedtrailhead2_2016sep29_sm

The view in March 2016:

coldcanyonclosedtrailheadv2_2016mar23_sm

The view in September 2015:

coldcanyonclosedtrailheadv2_2015sep11_sm

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:

WintersFire_2017Jul8_sm

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

threefiresmap3_2016sep12_sm

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.

AfterWintersFire2_2017Jul9_sm

March Visit (3/23/2016) 3 of 3

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:

coldcanyonclosedtrailheadv2_2016mar23_sm

And here is the view from last September 11:

coldcanyonclosedtrailheadv2_2015sep11_sm

February Visit (2/24/2016)

I returned to the reserve in February excited to see how much greener it would be and whether any wildflowers were starting to appear.  This drawing of Blue Ridge shows a dramatic difference from a month and a half prior:

ridge_2016feb24_sm

All along the creek trail, I enjoyed the new greens, as seen in the new growth below in a California buckeye and the Toyon at marker A02 (markers are used by the CA Phenology Project at Stebbins; here is a map of the marker locations).

californiabuckeye_2016feb24_sm

 

toyona02_2016feb24_sm

Cold Creek was running higher, and the water and the sediment both look cleaner than they did on my December and January visits.

coldcreek_2016feb24_sm

And there were wildflowers!  Not all that many yet, but I did see Henderson’s shooting star (Dodecatheon hendersonii), Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule), Large-leaved hound’s tongue (Cynoglossum grande), Blue dicks (Dichelostemma capitatum), Miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata), and Wild cucumber (Marah fabaceus).

shootingstar_2016feb24_sm

 

wildflowers_2016feb24_sm

 

January Visit (1/8/2016)

Walking the creek trail in early January, I drew some of the re-sprouting shrubs.  I have focused on plants that are marked for monitoring by the California Phenology Project at Stebbins Cold Canyon.  Marker numbers are noted on each sketch.  Shown below are California laurel (B03), Coyotebrush (A04), and Toyon (A02, with an additional closeup).

calaurelb03_2016jan8_sm

 

coyotebrusha04_2016jan8_sm

 

toyona02closeup_2016jan8_sm

 

toyona02_2016jan8_sm

Looking up from the creek at the same spot where I focused on water quality in December and January, I drew the canyon hillsides facing west.  While there was some green growth to be seen along the creek, next to nothing was green on the hillsides in this direction.

ridge3_2016jan8_sm