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The primary mission of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) Conservation Camp program is to provide the cooperative agencies with an able-bodied, trained work force for fire suppression and other emergencies such as floods and earthquakes. In addition, fire crews work on conservation projects on public lands and provide labor on local community services projects.

The program has also reduced recidivism, according to the California Department of Corrections, as the participants learn skills and discipline during their service. "A lot of these guys come in and have never held a job, never had any self worth," says Correctional Lieutenant L.A. von Savoye, the public information officer at the Sierra Conservation Center. "Within a very short time their mentality changes. They take pride in what they're doing. They're giving back to their communities. It gives them purpose."

I like it!

For burning brush, the firefighters make "fire circles" which help keep the fires contained.

There's just one problem with the firefighting effort--the havoc that's wreaked on the native plants. In front of this tree, a rare Michael's Rein Orchid was growing. The firefighters made a fire circle next to the tree and stomped down all of the nearby plants. Poison Oak is about the only plant that recovered well. Farther down this trail a fire circle was put right on top of one of the main areas where Scarlet Fritillaries grew.

The fire circles are "disturbed soil," and since there is no rehabilitation of the soil afterwards, invasive plants such as thistles take root.

What photos 20-23 show is removal (and the burning in fire circles) of brush. Most of what was cut down were native plants including Toyon, Pink Honeysuckle, and cudweeds.

And here's where I hop up on my soapbox and talk about fire from the perspective of plant people versus fire from the perspective of fire people. Plant experts argue against the notion that native areas need to burn every so often to be healthy. Some plants will die and be replaced by different species; others, such as Hollyleaf Cherry and some oaks, need to mature in a fire-free environment in order to reproduce.

Studies show that cutting or otherwise reducing fuels is often based on the misconception that oak woodlands and chaparral areas build up too much brush if left on their own, leaving them more vulnerable to fires. But any wildland will burn under the right conditions, and we are experiencing those conditions more frequently. In addition, clearing and grazing aid in the propagation of non-natives, which are more likely to burn. Unfortunately, we have allowed development to the perimeters of the park. Are we now going to sacrifice the native environment of the park to protect those new neighborhoods?

An alternative to destroying wildlands through cutting and grazing is a bill introduced in the California State Legislature (August 2018) which would help homeowners living near wildlands to retrofit and upgrade their homes to "fire harden" them. Fire-resistant roofing, ember resistant vents, and even external sprinkler systems are more effective at stopping fires than "defensible space" around one's home. My hope is that we can stop the encroachment of invasives and other non-natives in the park by curtailing or eliminating cutting and grazing for the purpose of fuel-load reduction.

Before they were cut, the Pink Honeysuckle vines had grown high up into the oak trees.

Those twisty branches are very old Pink Honeysuckle vines. Notice how the top just stops--because they were cut off. (The next photo gives you an idea of the size.)

Some rejuvenation has taken place. This is Toyon bushes sprouting up.

New Wright's Cudweed in another burned area.

And some California Bee Plant.

All Images Copyright 2010 - 2019
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