Recovery & Monitoring of Central Coast Vegetation
By Julie Evens and Alexis LaFever-Jackson
Last spring/summer of 2021, four CNPS staff, along with over 50 students and volunteers from UC Santa Cruz and beyond, spent six weeks conducting vegetation assessments in five state parks of the Santa Cruz Mountains and Diablo Range—an area swept by recent fires. In 2020, the CZU Lightning Complex fires burned State Park lands in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties; also in 2020, the SCU Lightning Complex fires in the Diablo Range in Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, Merced, San Joaquin, and Stanislaus counties.
Our 2021 efforts included 40+ post-fire vegetation samples, and 17 long-term monitoring (LTM) Redwood forest plots (including 10 unburned and 7 burned forest sites). The LTM Redwood plots contain data on the different redwood forest types, tree mortality or other impacts, and the forests’ ability to recover. During an August 2021 site visit, we found more plants resprouting and germinating in the redwood forests than five months earlier at 2 LTM sites: Henry Cowell State Park (SP), which included a greater diversity of plants rebounding there, and in Big Basin SP.
At Big Basin SP, we documented lightly to severely burned redwood forests, plus severely burned knobcone pine woodlands and chamise shrublands. At Henry Coe SP, we found lightly to heavily burned knobcone pine, ponderosa pine, and oak woodlands. Data across these areas already show that even throughout a severe drought year following the intense fires, many seedlings and resprouting plants are returning en masse. Some mature trees have been significantly impacted, while others haven’t.
We look forward to continuing the project this spring 2022 to document the resiliency and recovery of redwood forests, oak woodlands, chaparral and grassland habitats of the region—especially since the rainfall is more significant this fall/winter as compared to last year. Returning to LTM plots will be of utmost importance to track the dynamics over time. These surveys are a vital snapshot in time.
“Each plant species responds differently post-fire depending on the site conditions, such as viable seed in the ground, resprouting vigor, and amount of precipitation,” says Alexis LaFever-Jackson, Assistant Vegetation Ecologist with CNPS. “With recent rainfall across the state, Santa Cruz County is above average for precipitation of the season. We’ll be able to track how plants respond over time. The resilience and recovery of forests often take years of time, with monitoring a useful tool for resource assessment, management planning, and restoration efforts.”
This March 2022, we will provide two workshops for at least 50 students and volunteers on how to collect post-fire/vegetation surveys and rare plant surveys in Santa Clara and Monterey Counties, plus online webinars. So stay tuned! We’ll also plan future outings for students and early career botanists across the Central Coast this spring to document post-fire recovery and impacts in Santa Cruz and Santa Clara counties and beyond. Check our website for updates on these opportunities soon.