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Post-fire Recovery at Big Creek, part III

March 1, 2000 to September 15, 2000

In the spring, fields of flowers began appearing in the burn areas. The largest patches were a bright yellow poppy (Eschscholzia caespitosa) on upper slopes formerly covered by Chemise (Adenostoma fasciculatum), Ceanothus thrysiflora and C. sorediatus. Areas where fire retardant was applied showed extremely vigorous growth, as if the retardant acted as a fertilizer.

   Hills covered in poppies 4-9-00 (Boronda Camp is in lower left of photo)
   Thick growth of annual grasses fertilized by fire retardant drop 4-9-00

By April 26 the annual grasses on the Dolan Ridge fire line had grown very tall, obscuring the annual lupines (Lupinus sp.) and California Poppies (Eschscholzia californica). Along the fire line, and just west where the fire retardant was dropped, the milk thistles had grown into dense stands armored with extremely sharp spines.


  Solstice Peak looking east into burn area 4-26-00


 Dolan fire line looking north 4-26-00
 Dolan fire line looking south 4-26-00

 Heavy stand of Bromus rubens? annual grass along Dolan fire line, 4-26-00
 Very heavy growth of Milk Thistle Silybum marianum along Dolan fire line, 4-26-00, about 1.3 m tall.

On May 1, 2000, Feynner and John hiked up to lower Dolan Ridge to chop down milk thistles before they flower.The growth was very heavy and many flower heads were well-formed although most were not open yet. They chopped 1-2 acres. Areas to the west where fire retardant was dropped had a very heavy growth of grass and the thistles were unusually robust and blue-green colored. Thistles just across the fire line to the east, where retardant was not applied, were light green and thinner. In many areas the growth of annual grass (Bromus spp.) was so thick that chopping was difficult. The two of worked non-stop for about 6 hours.


 Feynner using weed eater to chop milk thistle (Silybum marianum) 5-1-00

 Looking down on chopped area. Another similar area was chopped up above, behind this view 5-1-00

 Dark green thistles fertilized by fire retardant 5-1-00

 Light green thistles just to the east 5-1-00

 Rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis) in dense thistle patch. We saw many voles (Microtus californicus) and rabbit (Sylvilagus bachmani) runways under the thistles.
 Field of poppies (Eschscholzia caespitosa) in burn areas surrounded by Ceanothus thrysiflora. The poppy seeds were dormant under the Ceanothus for many years.

On May 3, Feynner and John looked at a huge patch of the noxious weed Italian Thistle (Carduus pycnocephalus) on Highlands Ridge. This multi-acre patch is in an area that did not burn, but which was coated with fire retardant (see photo). This incident shows how the dropping of fire retardant can create a serious weed problem by fertilizing the growth of noxious weeds. See UCSC student Erin Avery's senior thesis project on this subject.


 Bomber drops fire retardant along Highlands Ridge on 9-29-99

 Photo taken from same spot on 5-3-00. Dark green patches on ridge top are dense stands of the weed Italian Thistle (Carduus pycnocephalus).

 Outside fire retardant drop zone 5-3-00

 Inside fire retardant drop zone 5-3-00

 Feynner in the middle of thistle patch. This would be a painful experience for anyone not wearing padded weed-whacking clothes! 5-3-00

 Feynner whipping thistles. This was to test how the weed-eater can handle the thistles. We plan to use the tractor and mower on the flat areas and the machete and/or weed-eater with cutting blade on the steep slopes.

On May 20 Feynner and John completed the thistle chop on Highlands Ridge. The tractor broke and we had to use smaller tools. After trying a DR mower, we found that the weedeater was the best tool for the job. By May 20 the thistles were as tall as 2 meters and very thick, in some cases so thick they fell down of their own weight. We chopped about 2 acres, including nearly all those growing in connection with the fire retardant drop. We did not attempt to control thistles in the burn areas or in areas not impacted by fire suppression activities. We estimate we worked about 50 hours total to chop the 2 acres.

Will Metz, our local USFS District Ranger, informed me that the fire retardant used is a form of ammonium phosphate (brand name Phos-chek, manufactured by Solutia, Inc.). A quote from the Solutia web page is revealing: "...Ammonium phosphate and ammonium sulfate formula retards fires effectively and provides a readily available form of nitrogen important for plant fertilization."


 Looking down on largest patch of chopped thistles. This patch was about 125m long and 40m wide 5-22-00.

 Big Creek got a little muddy the morning of May 16, after a 1/2" rain.5-16-00

 The mud all came from the Big Creek (North) fork. I heard from a neighbor that there was a 1" rain at his house 5 miles north.5-16-00

 Devil's Creek remained fairly clean 5-16-00 . To see more photos of the creek after the fire, go to the stream photos page.

 Regrowth of Madrone (Arbutus) at Highlands Peak in the south highlands of the reserve near the weather station 7-25-00

 Regrowth of Ceanothus sorediatus seedlings in the south highlands of the reserve near the weather station 7-25-00

By September 13, 2000, the summer vegetation had matured and grown over the burn areas and firebreaks. Most of the Dolan Ridge fire line grew a thick layer of vegetation, some annual plants and some native perennials. It was very interesting to see how the vegetation in the firebreak corresponded closely to the adjacent vegetation in the burn area: the only main exception being the heavy growth of thistles in some of the fire breaks (although many firebreaks had no thistle growth). Also, the type of revegetation varied greatly from place to place, as the photos show.


 Dense growth of Italian Thistles (Carduus pycnocephalus) on firebreak above Pine Meadows, high on Dolan Ridge in the Ventana Wilderness Area.

 Same place as photo at left, showing perennial shrub growth in firebreak: Hazardia squarrosa and Yerba Santa (Eriodictyon californicum).

 Dolan Ridge below Eagle Rock, showing annual grassland and vinegar weed (Trichostema lanceolatum) on fire break (foreground) and adjacent burn area (background).

 Fire break above Eagle Rock showing resprouting of perennial natives such as spineflower (Chorizanthe sp.) and buckwheat (Eriogonum sp.).

 Evening light on Dolan Ridge, September 13, 2000. There were long plumes of smoke off to the west (left of picture), originating from fires to the south.

 Dense growth of fiddlenecks (Phacelia sp.) in burn area under Madrones (Arbutus menziesii)and Oaks (Quercus agrifolia), just above Eagle Rock.


 Sunset of September 13, 2000 over Dolan Ridge. Smoke from distant fires colors the sky and water.

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