Fire is a natural part of the California landscape and plays an integral role in our local ecology. For millennia, Indigenous communities have stewarded the land with fire, but centuries of fire suppression, periods of extreme drought, and an expanding populace into the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) have led to increasingly intense fires that threaten communities. The burning question in recent years has been: how do we protect our communities from fire while also supporting “good fire” on the landscape?
Fire is a critical aspect of California ecology. This talk from Tim Hyland, Natural Resource Program Manager for the Santa Cruz District of California State Parks, will discuss fire ecology in California in general, local native plant adaptations to fire, and the specific response of the Fall Creek Unit of Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park to the CZU Incident.
Tim Hyland is the Natural Resource Program Manager for the Santa Cruz District of California State Parks. Born in San Jose he has spent the last 27 years helping to protect the incredible biodiversity of the Santa Cruz Mountains found in our local State Parks. During that time he has assisted in and currently directs the prescribed fire program for the district. Helping to maintain various ecosystems by reintroducing fire to redwood forest, coastal prairie and rare sand hills chaparral.
Archaeologists can analyze charred seeds and other plant remains to learn about relationships between people and the natural world deep into the past. This talk will describe how a collaborative research project between Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, State Parks, and academic researchers utilized this type of information to explore how Indigenous peoples on the coast of San Mateo and Santa Cruz Counties used prescribed burning to steward local landscapes. Guided by these findings, Amah Mutsun Land Trust is working to revitalize Indigenous-based stewardship of open spaces today.
Rob Cuthrell is a researcher in archaeology and historical ecology who has studied relationships between Indigenous people and landscapes west of the Santa Cruz Mountains for over a decade. Currently, Rob works as a consultant for Amah Mutsun Land Trust managing a native plant propagation and restoration project on Año Nuevo Point.
After fire, ecosystems can experience many changes. There can be increased risk of erosion and novel species can invade new areas, but fire can also reveal plants that have been waiting years for this natural disturbance to stimulate their seed banks — and there is still much to learn.
As the Santa Cruz community recovers from the impacts of the CZU Lightning Complex fires, we can look to other communities for guidance on where to go from here and how community scientists can help.
Join us for an online presentation from Josie Lesage of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden and learn about their response to the Thomas Fire that burned through Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties in 2017-2018.
About the Mapping Recovery Project
The Mapping Recovery project leveraged the enthusiasm of over 100 volunteers who surveyed plants and erosion in the Thomas and Whittier fire scars. The project gathered over 5000 data points on the locations of plants in these fire scars, significantly expanding the known locations of many common invasive species, while also identifying populations of some rare or new invasive species. This data is being used to develop a map of priority intervention areas where restoration of native habitat is most needed and will be most beneficial to the ecosystem in the future.
About the Speaker
Josie Lesage works to understand, protect, and restore California habitats using ecological theory as a guide. She has a Ph.D. in Environmental Studies from the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she studied long-term management and community change in California’s coastal prairies. As the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden’s Applied Ecologist, she is interested in understanding how local ecosystems respond to disturbance and restoration intervention, and in building a community of volunteer scientists to steward our local habitats. She is currently involved in several projects related to invasive plant management and ecosystem recovery following fire. Her favorite plants are in the genus Castilleja.
Interested in becoming a community scientist? Join us for an iNaturalist training in the Museum’s Garden Learning Center on September 11.
Many of our native plants in the Santa Cruz Mountains are fire adapted, from the familiar coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) to the extremely rare Santa Cruz cypress (Hesperocyparis abramsiana) and Santa Cruz wallflower (Erysimum teretifolium). However, decades of fire suppression have greatly reduced the frequency of fires in our region. The Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve is a rare example of a location that has burned multiple times in just over a decade: in 2008 during the Martin Fire and again in 2020 during the CZU Lightning Complex fires.
Join Dr. Jodi McGraw for an exploration of this unique Santa Cruz sandhills habitat, which is home to the Santa Cruz cypress and Santa Cruz wallflower, and what we’ve learned since the 2008 Martin Fire.
THE SANDHILLS CONSERVATION AND MANAGEMENT PLAN A: Strategy for Preserving Native Biodiversity in the Santa Cruz Sandhills. Prepared by Jodi M. McGraw with Contributions from Matt Freeman, Richard Arnold, and Caitlin Bean. Prepared for The Land Trust of Santa Cruz County June 2004.
Dr. Jodi McGraw is an ecologist who works on conservation projects throughout central coastal California. For the past 28 years, she has been studying the Santa Cruz Sandhills—a unique ecosystem found only in central Santa Cruz County, which supports numerous endangered plants and animals. Her research and conservation management work has addressed how fire can be both a tool and a threat to persistence of the endangered plants, including Santa Cruz cypress and Santa Cruz wallflower, and the native biodiversity in the sandhills.
Many had to evacuate the Santa Cruz Mountains during the CZU Lightning Complex fires of August, 2020, including museums, visitor centers, and cultural heritage sites managed by California State Parks. Jenny Daly, museum curator for the Santa Cruz District of California State Parks, was part of a team that worked quickly to save artifacts from threatened State Parks, including Big Basin, Año Nuevo, and Wilder Ranch.
During this online event, learn about the immediate steps taken by State Parks to save our cultural history and the ongoing process of caring for objects impacted by the fires. Kathleen Aston, Collections Manager at the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History, will also share how the Museum approaches natural disasters and collections, from Loma Prieta to ongoing efforts with the CZU Lightning Complex.
Photo of Mark Hylkema by Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group.
About the Speaker
Jenny Daly, Museum Curator I for the California State Parks in the Santa Cruz District, grew up in Santa Cruz and is fortunate to live and work in her hometown. After transferring to UC Berkeley from Cabrillo College, Jenny received a double BA in Near Eastern Studies and Theater, Performance, and Dance Studies. The most valuable part of her time at Berkeley was the internship she had working with the Registrar at the Phoebe Hearst Museum of Anthropology where she became hooked on the idea of a career working in museums. Jenny then received a Master’s in Museum Studies from John F. Kennedy University and has worked in collections management at various institutions since then, including at the California Academy of Sciences, the Cantor Arts Center, and the Getty Center. Jenny was very excited to start working for the State Parks as a curator because it meant she could combine her love of Parks with her expertise in museum collections management.
Fire is many things to the Amah Mutsun and other California Indian Tribes — it is sacred, it is a tool gifted by Creator, and it is a way to restore balance to Mother Earth. This presentation will share more about how the Amah Mutsun are using fire to restore landscapes and relationships in the Santa Cruz mountains and beyond.
About the Speakers
Lawrence Atencio is the Native Stewardship Corps Field Manager for the Amah Mutsun Land Trust.
Marcella Luna is an Amah Mutsun Tribal Member, Native Stewardship Corps member, and sits on the Amah Mutsun Tribal Council.
The Amah Mutsun Land Trust is an initiative of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, which is the vehicle by which the Amah Mutsun access, protect, and steward lands that are integral to their identity and culture. The AMLT returns the tribe to their ancestral lands and restores their role as environmental stewards.
The Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History is located in the unceded territory of the Awaswas-speaking Uypi Tribe. The Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, comprised of the descendants of Indigenous people taken to missions Santa Cruz and San Juan Bautista during Spanish colonization of the Central Coast, is today working hard to restore traditional stewardship practices on these lands and heal from historical trauma.
The CZU Lightning Complex fires burned roughly 80% of the old growth redwood forests in the Santa Cruz Mountains, notably including Big Basin, the largest contiguous stand of old growth redwoods south of Humboldt County. While it’s still unclear what the outcome of this fire complex will be, we can look to prior fires to see how the redwood trees might respond.
Join us as we discuss what is known about redwoods and fire, from historic fire intervals, to fire adaptations, to tree-level physiological and anatomical responses. We’ll also explore how severely trees were burned using ground and satellite measurements and what we may expect forest recovery to look like.
About the Speaker
Zane Moore is a doctoral student at UC Davis studying redwood development and genomics. He has studied redwood forests in the Santa Cruz Mountains since 2010 with a focus on albino redwoods, large redwood clones, dendrochronology (tree ring science), and tall trees. Zane has also been a docent at Big Basin since 2012, engaging in science communication with the public about these fascinating trees.
This program is part of the CZU Lightning Complex and Community Science Project in partnership between the California Native Plant Society, the Kenneth S. Norris Center for Natural History, the San Lorenzo Valley Museum, and the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History.
In this edition of Rock Record, the Geology Gents unearth a few key examples of how newly exposed outcrops have led to important geological insights, as well as some geologic exploration into freshly exposed rock and sediments exposed by the CZU Lightning Complex Fires.
By Graham Edwards and Gavin Piccione (aka the Geology Gents)
To reconstruct Earth history, geologists rely on the rock record: the accumulated rocks that, through their accumulation and formation, are relics of ancient geologic processes spanning geologic history. Such rocks provide a spyglass with which to peer into geologic history. But our view through this spyglass is limited to rocks that are both exposed at the Earth’s surface and have survived the effects of erosion.
As geologists, we often rely on Earth processes to expose new rocks and provide us fresh glimpses into Earth’s history. Since exposing fresh rock requires a lot of energy, natural disasters or extreme natural events can expose clues to this history through fresh rock surfaces. Human activities, such as construction or mining, can also expose new geological wonders.
In this edition of Rock Record, we’ll go through a few key examples of how newly exposed outcrops have led to important geological insights, as well as some geologic exploration into some freshly exposed rock and sediments exposed by the CZU Complex Fire.
The construction of roads often requires the removal of large sections of rock, leaving sheer rock faces on the sides of the road. Some of the most famous rock outcrops are ones exposed in roadcuts and these unique locations are a frequent destination for college geology classes.
As undergraduates, the Gents (i.e. Gavin and Graham) explored roadcuts in the Northeastern US, and learned about tectonic motion through the faults and folds exposed in roadcuts (like the one in the image to the right), about metamorphic rocks via roadcuts in Maine, and about large deep-sea sediment avalanches (called turbidites) from roadcuts in upstate New York. Rocks exposed on the sides of roads can also be significant for geologist’s understanding of the sequence of events in an area.
For instance, a roadcut in Owens valley (see image below), settled a longstanding debate amongst geologists about whether the Bishop Tuff was deposited before or after the first glaciations in the area. The exposed rock showed the Bishop Tuff sitting on top of the Sherwin Till glacial deposit, meaning that the tuff must have been deposited after the till.
Forest fires are, in many cases, an important natural event for the health of a forest because they clear the forest floor of brush and dead vegetation. Through this process, fires also expose large portions of rock that would otherwise not be visible. For this addition of Rock Record, the Gents explored some areas of the Santa Cruz mountains that have been burned in the CZU Lightning Complex fires last August.
Taking Empire Grade North, areas of Cretaceous (145-66 million years before present) igneous and metamorphic rocks that were previously covered by vegetation are exposed in the burn zone of the recent fires.
Sometimes extreme weather events can expose new outcrops or geologic features. For instance, the Frijoles Fault of a previous Rock Record post, The Faults that Shape Santa Cruz, was hidden behind trees and shrubs until a powerful storm event in the 1970s drove enough coastal erosion to expose the fault in the sea cliffs. Even more recently, heavy rains can cause landslides on the steep topography of the Santa Cruz Mountains and Santa Lucia Mountains of Big Sur. Each of these landslides exposes new surfaces that allow geologists and geomorphologists to study what causes landslides and the ways that massive amounts of Earth can be rapidly moved down hillslopes.
Some rocks are truly out of this world! Rocks that formed beyond Earth and arrive on Earth are called meteorites. Most meteorites come from the asteroid belt, a ring of rocky debris that dwells between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, while some meteorites come from Mars and the Moon. As any Earth dweller knows, meteorites are incredibly rare, but they are important samples of other celestial bodies and leftovers from planet formation that we can study in close detail here on Earth. So, a meteorite fall is an incredibly exciting event for planetary scientists and geologists, alike!
One of the most important meteorites ever to land on Earth was the Allende meteorite, which landed in 1969 near the town of Pueblito de Allende in the state of Chihuahua in northern Mexico. The stone broke into pieces before it landed on Earth, but the collected chunks of this meteorite total >4,000 pounds with more pieces still found today! Because there was so much meteorite to go around, many scientists have studied it, and since the Allende meteorite is made of some of the most ancient material in our solar system it has provided an invaluable window into the earliest moments of our solar system just after the Sun formed!
What mysteries do you suppose are hiding all around you, covered by trees, houses, or soil?
Rock Record is a monthly blog featuring musings on the mineral world from Gavin Piccione and Graham Edwards.
Graham Edwards and Gavin Piccione are PhD candidates in geochronology with the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at UC Santa Cruz. They also host our monthly Rockin’ Pop-Ups as “The Geology Gents”.
Geomorphologist Noah Finnegan provides an overview of the science linking wildfires and debris flows in California, including lessons learned from the 2009 Lockheed Fire in the Santa Cruz mountains. Particular emphasis is paid to how residents impacted by the CZU Lightning Complex can navigate resources to better understand their debris-flow risks.
Below are resources referred to in the presentation and major take-aways from Noah Finnegan:
The National Weather Service SF Office is very focused on post-fire debris flow hazards. Their forecasters and forecast products can help you anticipate upcoming storms that may pose a hazard because of rainfall intensity: www.weather.gov/mtr/
Noah Finnegan is a professor in Earth and Planetary Sciences at UC Santa Cruz. Noah’s research and teaching are focused on processes of erosion and sediment transport on hill slopes and in river channels.