Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Station Fire, One Year Later: Post-Fire Habitat Restoration & Recovery Symposium

It's hard to believe that more than a year has passed since the devastating Station Fire in the Angeles National Forest and adjacent lands destroyed more than 160,000 acres of watershed.

This past week, the Los Angeles & San Gabriel Rivers Watershed Council and the US Forest Service hosted a one-day symposium at Descanso Gardens that looked in-depth at both the challenges of the fire's aftermath and the encouraging signs of rehabilitation and restoration.

More than 200 professionals crowded into Van de Camp Hall to hear from a number of experts and stakesholders, including Jody Noiron, US Forest Service Supervisor for Angeles National Forest at the time of the Station Fire, and Dr. Sabrina Drill of the University of California Cooperative Extension, who opened the program with an overview of the fire area and its impact.

The morning program, with presentations by Katie VinZant of the US Forest Service and CJ Fotheringham of the US Geological Survey, focused on post-fire invasive species control and the role of the built environment in wildland interface zones on impacted burn areas.

A number of presentations focused on the impact of the Station Fire upon vegetation, aquatic species and ecological succession after fire incidents.  Especially fascinating was US Geologist Survey ecologist Adam Backlin's presentation on how post-fire toxins in waterways affected fish and amphibians. The Arroyo Chub was a strong survivor but the Trout did not fare as well. The video of debris flows included in his presentation was breathtaking.

Long time California Native Plant Society board members, Cliff and Gabi McLean, shared an interesting photo presentation during lunch on how ecological succession occurs in post-fire recovery among native plants in a chaparral wildlands environment. Especially interesting was the role of annuals as the first indicators of vegetative life after a high intensity fire, which in this case reached temperatures about 7000 degrees (not a typo).

From a policy perspective, LA County Department of Public Works Dan Sharp outlined how the County plans to move forward with a new Flood Control District Sediment Management Strategic Plan to address all sediment issues, but particularly those created by the millions of cubic yards of sediment that have flowed down the Big Tujunga and Arroyo Seco into debris basins and other surface water capture areas.  Dan's comments were of particular interest to this writer since LA County is planning to move ahead to remove over 1.2 million cubic yards of sediment from Pasadena's Hahamongna Watershed Park alone. (See my related blogs on the Hahamongna.)

Andy Lipkis of TreePeople gave the audience hope for the future, speaking of the tremendous partnerships with the US Forest Service that will facilitate tree planting in Angeles National Forest as the long-term recovery continues.

All speakers participated in an audience Q&A panel discussion, with a focus on how recovery could lead to more sustainable practices and fire safe landscapes.

Dr. Nancy L. C. Steele, Executive Director of the Los Angeles & San Gabriel Rivers Watershed Council, reminded participants that the full scope of the symposium program will be the single-issue focus of LASGRWC's Spring 2011 edition of WatershedWise Magazine. 

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