BLM replants scorched Rush Fire land
|Bitter brush grows exceedingly well in this section of the Bureau of Land Management’s attempt to regenerate plant life in areas devastated by last August’s Rush Fire. Photos by Makenzie Davis|
|Now, Stony Creek boasts natural regrowth and seeded plants growing along the banks, as Ecologist Valda Locki explains. The Bureau of Land Management has also made rock barriers intended to stop erosion and raise the creek bed.|
July 24, 2013 — The Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Eagle Lake Field Office have done their fair share to regenerate natural plants in the nearly 300,000 acres of land ravaged by the Rush Fire last year.
Before the fire was even completely squelched by firefighters last August, Valda Locki, an ecologist who worked on the emergency stabilization and rehabilitation for the Rush Fire, started planning the projected path to replant blackened lands.
“I think helping (the land) regenerate is a little more advantageous for the animals that are there now,” said Locki.
The Rush Fire burned so hot in places, shrubs like sagebrush and bitter brush left only charred stumps. Therefore, the lack of roots and plants in the area fail to provide food and shelter for natural animals like the burros, wild horses, antelope and Sage Grouse. Additionally the absence of roots allows the topsoil to be carried off in heavy winds.
“It’s the shrubs that provide food and coverage out there,” said Locki. “And the shrubs are what we lost.”
As of now, Locki and crews have drill seeded 5,000 acres of land, aerial seeded 25,000 acres, broadcast seeded five to 10 acres and have 100 acres of land slated for hand planting.
While the numbers of replanted acres may seem low when compared to the number burned, natural regeneration plays a large role in the rehabilitation of scorched areas.
“A lot of the regrowth is from the fire,” said Eagle Lake Bureau of Land Management Ken Collum explaining how some native plants thrive in the nutrient rich soil after a fire.
However, sometimes nature needs a little help in the long process, according to Locki. Some areas that received seeds for natural plants have been doing well, especially at Ram Horn, where seedling bitter brush plants were secured by plastics tubes and metal pins to protect from them animals and harsh winds.
“To see it recovering like this is just really encouraging,” said Jeff Fontana, the public affairs officer for the BLM Northern California District.
However, some BLM seeded plants do not seem to be taking well to surrounding areas, but according to Locki, it’s really still too early to tell how these plants will turn out.
Cheat grass remains the main enemy for the BLM crew and future vegetation fires. It is an invasive plant brought over to the state in the 1850s that dries very early in the season and acts as a very efficient fire carrier. In some areas affected by the Rush Fire, cheat grass dominates the ground, potentially increasing risk for fires.
Due to the cheat grass problem, it is important that slightly flame retardant plants like sagebrush be replanted in the area to slow future fires.
“Fire is natural, but what’s bad is cheat grass,” said Valda. “Generally speaking, (fire) can be good, but because we suppress fire so much, it turns catastrophic.”
BLM has received help from various organizations to rehabilitate the land. $2.8 million came from federal funds and California Fish and Wildlife provided $330,000.
Additionally, BLM has received help from the nonprofit Great Basin Institute, where youth interested in biology, geology and sciences of the sort are able to help monitor the regeneration of seeded plots for up to three years to determine the success rate of the replanting.
Also, the Student Conservation Association has been working with BLM to collect native seeds and, right now, tear down old telephone poles.
Furthermore, two interns from Chicago Botanical have joined the crew to learn more about the field and lend a helping hand to BLM’s efforts.
“We’ve had the opportunity to involve students from three programs and the benefits are two-fold,” said Fontana.
The Rush Fire last summer burned about 300,000 acres and is the second largest fire in state history. If 40,000 acres had not been across the Nevada state line, it would have been ranked first.