Connecting fire and ecosystem restoration in California shrublands and forests: New tools and strategies

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Nicole Molinari and Marc Meyer

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California wildlands are dominated by ecosystems adapted to two fundamentally different fire regimes. Before Euroamerican settlement (EAS), most widespread shrubland ecosystems were characterized by relatively infrequent but severe wildfires that removed much aboveground biomass. Uniquely among the Mediterranean Climate Regions, most forest in California is dominated by conifers ill-adapted to high severity fire, and the pre-EAS fire regime was characterized by frequent, mostly low-severity fire. In both ecosystems, recent wildfires have trended larger and more destructive to human life and property but causes and ecological effects of the megafire trend differ in the two systems. In California conifer forests, fire suppression has greatly reduced fire occurrence, leading to increases in forest density and continuity and – in interaction with climate warming –increases in fire size and severity. In chaparral and related ecosystems, high numbers of human ignitions, invasion by annual grasses, and drought-induced mortality have interacted to increase fire frequency to the point that the sustainability of woody vegetation is threatened. In California, management of fire and “green” vegetation is inextricably linked to restoration and management of “black” vegetation after fire. We describe ecosystem management initiatives that seek to ensure the success and sustainability of fire and ecosystem restoration efforts in these two contrasting ecosystems. We focus on the importance of “ecological forestry”, ecologically-informed fire management, and flexible post-fire restoration strategies that center on long-term and broad-scale outcomes, and we describe a set of new tools that permit rapid identification of restoration priorities in both shrubland and forest ecosystems.

Resource Type:
Audio/Video, Conference Presentation, SER2019

Pre-approved for CECs under SER's CERP program

Society for Ecological Restoration