Saturday, May 25, 2019

Bulldozed Catlines an Invitation to Invasive Non-Native weeds

It could also be said that the unfortunate firefighting techniques (both proactive & reactive) are illustrative of what your average weekend Ranchette owners do to their own properties every year. Or for that matter what major developers & Real Estate Land Speculators or even Alternative Energy Schemes do to the land they acquire. Taken all together though, 10s of 1000s of small landowners collectively speaking are worse than the usual deep pocket targets environmental groups love to target with lawsuit after lawsuit. In the end they all contribute to the underground destruction of the underground mycorrhizal grid and with it's complete removal the non-native invasive weeds more easily replace the native setting. However, two new reports recently released expose the extensive damage done by firefighting with Bulldozers. Not blaming the bulldozer crews here, but there really are no plans designed to counter the damage done by bulldozers after the battle is won against the wildfire other than an eye candy patchwork of quick restoration.

Image courtesy of USFS

Image by USFS
The biggest problem with firefighting with Bulldozers in a warlike strategic effort against a out of control wildfire is that these firebreak Catlines displace soils, destabilize slopes, denude native vegetation and help spread flammable invasive non-native weeds. Later when the rainy season comes, these same Catlines help degrade water quality with tonnes of sediment, ruin closed canopy forest habitat, can also destroy Native American artifacts and other historical heritage sites, and despoil the scenery of fire affected wildlands. There is certanly no doubt that using these ‘big iron’ heavy bulldozers like some German Panzer Division on the eastern front, is that this action can admittedly strike fiercely by cutting a lot of fireline quickly and brutally, and in the right places and conditions these catlines can stop wildfire spread. But the damage they cause may go on for decades long after the wildfire is contained and put out. Two recent reports came out about two of the major fires. Last year's (2018) Carr Fire in Northern California and the Soberanes Fire (2016) from Carmel south to Big Sur along California's central coast. Seriously, for those interested, please read both of these reports in their entirety. These very recently released reports are very educational. Here they are below.
Carr Fire CATlines: The Environmental Impacts of Bulldozers in Wildfire Suppression (March 2019)
Carr Fire Catlines video
Proactive Bulldozed Firebreak Construction
(Photo by Tim Duck, BLM, Arizona Strip Field Office.)

At the top of this post I used a term, proactive. In the fire suppression game, this would entail not actually fighting a wildfire, but preparation of land through management practices involving prescribed burns in wild areas and the use of bulldozers in creating future fire break lines which ultimately are worthless and costly. Unfortunately even these activities seem more likely to influence spread of invasive weed pressure and future wildfire sread much faster. How ? Firefighting crews and their equipment may disperse invasive weed seeds like Cheatgrass, Black Mustard and Yellow Starthistle as they travel in from other regions. They may also be to blame for local dispersal within the area of the actual wildfire fighting efforts as they travel to each new location. 

Image by Pete M Dziuk
The stickery sticky seeds of these invasive plants may adhere to fire personnel and their equipment as they move about from fire camp to fire camp, thereby dispersing these seeds elsewhere into the management unit as crews leave camp for the fireline. A Fire Crew's equipment largely consists of personal belongings (boots, clothes, sleeping bag, tent), personal protective equipment (gloves, helmet, goggles, fire pack, fire shelter), and their hand tools like shovels, pulaskis, axes, fire rakes, hoes. This equipment can serve as carriers for the dispersal of invasive plants unless these items are cleaned prior to reuse at other locations. In our less than perfect world, how likely is that ? Even the guy who cleans the annoying stickers of Cheatgrass stickers from his garments is going to miss one, two or more seeds from his/her socks or boots. 
The Reactive techniques & Strategies taken during Firefighting Efforts
Image - Big Sur Kate Blog

Image - Dozer Operators Group
In the 2016 I followed the Soberanes Fire  daily reported news activities of the firefighting crews in their reactive effort to suppress the raging wildfire by hand and mechanized crews in almost impossible geographical conditions. The photo above was actually one of the smaller bulldozed fire breaks I saw in the News Photo images. But all across this region there were many a Bulldozer Panzer Divisions sitting at the ready just waiting for orders to attack at strategic locations for a new defensive line once they got the go ahead to make a stand. You really cannot blame the Dozer operators either, because they are putting their lives on the line (many have died over past couple of years) defending property of people who made the choice to live in an isolated rural residential area and small to large communities in the middle of wildland areas who are also harms way of a wildfire. I'll also post a link to the California Dozer Operators Group website as well. Many of these massive fire breaks were six or more bulldozer blades wide. Here is what I wrote back in May 2017. 
Santa Lucia Coast Range & Big Sur California: An Environmental Wreck ???
Palo Colorado Canyon now a Paradise Lost ???
Photo: Trabuco Ranger District, Cleveland National Forest
Sadly, even the damage afterward is usually never dealt with properly. Most post-fire restoration projects I've ever seen deal with a mere bandaid patch job to provide eye candy appeal for public viewing to provide proof that attempts were made at repairing damage. Unforunately many things are not well thought out in methods used. With every large wildfire, the conduct a Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER Reports), to see what needs repairing and how or by what methd. Yet, nature has already programmed internal restoration strategies which spring into action straight away. Nature doesn't wait a year or two or more before action is taken. In times past areas were gone over again with heavy equipment further compacting soil. Non-native seed of various grasses and perennials were used to quickly cover the landscape before the rainy season started again. This only exacerbates the problem later on with future wildfires. Then there special interest groups who want to use the opportunity to blame increased wildfire to such factors as climate change, overgrown forests and urban encroachment into rural areas, etc. And all the while the real cause of wildfires (90% are Human) is never really addressed. Why ??? Well, how do you actually police stupidity and ignorance ??? Oh sure there are rules, regulations and laws against arson, rubbish burning, making campfires, building & fire codes, but people in our modern times resent being told what they can and cannot do. Adding more laws & regulations are clearly not the answer either, because many peoples will look for loopholes, while others view the new laws & regulations as challenges for breaking them. Ultimately, the future Superblooms will eventually look like the photograph below and there appears to be no way to prevent it.

As the saying goes, “All that glitters is not Gold.”
Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area

Today we are experiencing two types of a “superbloom” season - one comprised of stunning native wildflowers and the other made up of pernicious non-native invasive weeds like Black Mustard (Brassica nigra), Yellow Starthistle (Centaurea solstitialis), Cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum), etc. In multiple ways, when you knowingly or unknowingly destroy the underground mycorrhizal grid and you invite a sort of Thanksgiving spread for the non-native invasives.
Yup, take a good look at the superbloom future folks! 😲

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