Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Rim Fire's effects likely to last for decades to come

Bettina Boxall in the Los Angeles Times: ...The huge Rim fire, ignited Aug. 17 by a hunter's illegal campfire, is likely to have transformed large swaths of the Stanislaus National Forest for decades to come.

Remote sensing satellite images indicate that virtually all of the vegetation is dead on nearly 40% of the area of the 401-square-mile blaze, which burned from the national forest into the western portion of Yosemite National Park, where it continues to smolder.

Burned chaparral and oak will quickly resprout. But where large patches of trees were killed, ecologists say it could take 30 to 50 years for the forest to reestablish itself in the shrub fields that are the first to grow. If there are more fires in the meantime, the land could permanently convert to chaparral. "You're looking at a huge area that doesn't have any living conifers," said Hugh Safford, regional ecologist for the U.S. Forest Service. "The big question really for managers and the public is what's that landscape going to look like in 50 to 100 years. It's going to look really different."

... Two weeks ago, dozens of federal scientists from around the country set out to assess the damage and plan emergency recovery efforts. They fanned out across the forest, digging holes to see if the soil would hold water or repel it in erosive sheets. They checked trails and roads and known archaeological sites.

...Curtis Kvamme, a Forest Service soil scientist who was on his fifth day of poking in the dirt, took a shovel to scrape a thin layer of ash from the ground in an area of badly burned timberland. ...Kvamme's verdict: The soil had burned at high severity, meaning there is a greater chance of erosion. Instead of seeping into the earth, rainfall or snowmelt could wash in torrents downslope, potentially contributing to flooding....

Fire crews construct fireline on the Rim Fire. The Rim Fire in the Stanislaus National Forest near in California began on Aug. 17, 2013. U.S. Forest Service photo by Mike McMillan.

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