Bill Pramuk

Bill Pramuk: Trees and People

I received an email from a local reader, Al Verstuyft saying, as a member of the Rotary Club of North Napa, “We are starting to think about how we could be part of the reforestation effort” and how the Lake County Resource Conservation District (RCD) was kind enough to share their experience”. (See this link: http://www.lakercd.org/post-fire-reforestation.html).

Coincidentally, I am a board member of the Napa RCD, which is in the midst of the “Acorns to Oaks” project. The effort set out with the objective of establishing 5,000 oaks. I had the opportunity to participate in two planting days last year at Alston Park, a city park in Napa. Now it looks like the effort is going to expand.

After the fires, says Napa RCD Executive Director Leigh Sharp, “The vineyard industry groups in Napa and Sonoma are very interested in facilitating the planting of oaks. They have properties to plant and they are also willing to help propagate as needed. We have been working with the Napa/Sonoma group and expect soon to pull together a smaller working group with a focus on Napa.”

Leigh said the California Native Plant Society is also initialing an effort.

The Napa RCD response was swift after the fires, pulling together a wealth of information on its website.

At this link: http://naparcd.org/post-fire-resources-for-managing-your-land/ it provides articles and contact information on:

— Do’s and Don’ts for Post Fire Restoration

— Preparing for Winter

— Preparing Unpaved Roads

— Local Native Grass Seed Sources

— Burned Oaks — which will survive?

— Recovering from Wildfire — Forest and Woodland

— Fire Restoration

— Survival of Fire Injured Conifers

— Hazard Tree Removal

— After Fire Assistance Programs: USDA Fire Recovery Assistance and the Emergency Watershed Program.

One key issue is “Which trees will survive?” Although burned trees can be hazardous, there is a risk that burned-looking trees that have good potential to recover will be removed prematurely.

One property owner told me a crew that came in to help from another region, marked burned-looking mature coast redwood trees for removal, not knowing coast redwoods have excellent fire resistance. Their blackened trunks are not necessarily dead.

Fortunately, he was able to meet with them before they started felling trees that have good potential for recovery.

An article by “Save the Redwoods League” tells of a study by researchers from UC Berkeley after major fires in 2008. Examining burned areas in Big Sur and Mendocino one year after the fires, Berkeley ecologist Benjamin Ramage said, “Larger trees, where all the foliage was scorched off, were covered with a light green fuzz of new foliage. Of trees over 1.5 feet in diameter, maybe only one redwood out of a hundred was killed”.

Coast live oak, the key tree species on local mountain slopes, is very resistant to fire and very resilient. But there are limits.

The article “Burned Oaks: Which Ones Will Survive?” provides a nice graphic of the anatomy of tree stems, and photographs of “dead cambium” and “live cambium” to help determine the potential for a tree to recover.

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In making management decisions, it is critical to be aware that burned oaks may sprout from remaining live tissue in limbs, trunks and root collars.

The next key issue is establishing new trees. The best potential for long-term success is in “volunteer” trees; those that pop up on their own. These young trees have found locations where conditions are good for survival. Such a seedling represents a multitude of acorns that did not make it.

Keeping this in mind, acorn and seedling planting projects need to provide the best practical growing conditions. In addition, acorns and seedling oaks are a rich source of food for wildlife, so they need protection until they are established.

Since this has been a major challenge for many groups that do acorn and oak planting projects, various protection techniques have been developed. Those can be adapted to a particular project.

Check them out at:

— UC Integrated Hardwood Range Management Program, “Oak Tree Care”, Doug McCreary.

— “Guide to Growing California Oaks”, Phytosphere Research (http://phytosphere.com/oakplanting/Vacacages.htm#protectfromrodent)

I am seeing many calm and confident people, ready to deal with the aftermath of these disastrous fires.

Napa RCD Conservation Program Manager Frances Knapczyk said in an email to several groups of concerned people: “We’d like to coordinate our good energy and resources. We invite you to join me at the RCD office to meet each other and kick-off coordination. We suggest meeting soon, as acorn collecting season is now.”

Bill Pramuk is a registered consulting arborist. Visit his website, www.billpramuk.com. Email questions to info@billpramuk.com or call him at 707-226-2884.

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