SEC rolls out emergency watershed protection program
The Sonoma Ecology Center (SEC) is currently organizing volunteers in an effort to shore up burned properties near Sonoma Valley waterways.
Houses and structures that burned in the recent fires have left behind ash and debris that includes sulfates, nitrates, asbestos and heavy metals. This toxic waste can wash into waterways during heavy rains, so keeping the ash and debris in place until it can be properly removed is very important to watershed health, wildlife and public safety.
As part of the its Emergency Watershed Protection Project, the SEC is engaging landowners, volunteers and donors to strategically protect Sonoma Valley streams and public health. Assistance is needed in manning and managing material staging areas where volunteers fill sandbags and load vehicles with sandbags and wattles. These materials are then placed on prioritized sites by small groups of volunteers working under the supervision of a trained team leader.
Volunteers are also needed to help contact Sonoma Valley landowners with burned properties near waterways. The goal is to have these property owners sign SEC permission forms and allow access so that sites can be secured.
If you want to help, go to www.sonomaecologycenter.org and click on “Emergency Watershed Protection Program”. There you will find a volunteer sign up list, a volunteer waiver, and a schedule of work days and times that you can sign up for.
If you are a landowner whose structures burned in close proximity to streams and would like to find out more about the SEC’s services, go to the site above and look at the information sheet. If you are interested you can sign the consent form and get it back to the SEC.
Another message from SEC: Don’t cut those trees and shrubs!
Trees and shrubs may look dead after last month’s wildfires killed their leaves and blackened their bark. But most are not dead – and more often than not, letting them alone will result in vigorous new growth next spring, just a few months away.
“California’s trees have adapted to wildfire over thousands of years,” explained SEC Research Program Manager Caitlin Cornwall. “That’s especially true of the many varieties of oak trees here, which really make up the backbone of Sonoma Valley’s forests and woodlands.” Cornwall added, “The bigger the oak, the thicker its bark, the greater the likelihood the tree survived.”
As University of California scientists stated in a 2004 report titled “Fire in California’s Oak Woodlands,” “Unlike most coniferous species, oaks have evolved mechanisms to survive periodic burning. Moderate and even low-intensity fires can scorch all the leaves on woody plants. For most conifers such damage is usually lethal. Oaks, on the other hand, suffer little long-term damage from the burning of their foliage.”
Unless the tree poses an imminent danger to people or property, scientists recommend waiting at least a year after a fire to determine whether a tree is dead. Even dead trees should be left in place as habitat for cavity-nesting birds like bluebirds and owls, acorn storage for woodpeckers, and wood-eating insects that then become bird food.
Most tree species in our local forests and woodlands will sprout from their base, producing many shoots that thin out over time. Because they already have well-established root systems, these trees tend to grow much faster than those from seed.
Many of today’s oaks in California, especially those with several main trunks, originated as sprouts from long-ago wildfires. And chaparral – the brushy collection of manzanita, toyon, coyote brush, chamise and other species – actually requires fire to rejuvenate itself. Even after a high-intensity, white-ash fire, chaparral shrubs will re-sprout from their root crowns with vigorous new growth.