Bobcat Fire Burn Scar Update: 442 Days Post-Fire
(Disclaimer: I am not a bonanist; I'm a pastoralist. So although I'm doing my best to document what's happening in our burn scar, I might get some things wrong. I welcome corrections!)
Dry and struggling Tucker oak
I didn't think I'd be writing an update on the burn scar until spring, as not much tends to happen here once it gets cold. But sadly there is one thing that can happen during this period: things can die.
We had a light rain in October, but it's been a totally dry November, and several wind events with humidity tanking into the single digits. Normally we have our first snow in November, and it's often a pretty good one, laying in a few feet of snow pack on the top of piñon ridge if not on the ranch floor. The last time Los Angeles had a totally dry November was 29 years ago.
Barely holding on flannel bush seedling and sad looking poodle-dog bush.
Even outside of the burn scar, mature plants are visibly desiccated. Sagebrush leaves are droopy little feet, and scrub oaks are more twigs than leaves. Piñon pines, on the other hand, are still looking good, decorated for fall with bright green tips. Their demise from drought is more indirect and slow, stress allowing unchecked pine bark infestation or other disease.
Inside the burn scar, delicate new plants, both resprouters and from seed, are giving up. I've been watching the new flannel bush seedlings struggle for a couple of months. Many of the smaller seedlings have already died. Those that germinated early and got to a certain size by say September are struggling but holding their own. Surprisingly, a lot of Tucker oaks, all of which had resprouted, look dead or dying. Many of these trees resprouted immediately after the fire only for their tender shoots to be killed in the first hard freeze of 2020. I was so relieved that they had reserved enough energy to resprout again in the spring, which they all did. If they die now I'm guessing a third attempt at resprouting might be expecting too much. In that case, we will loose huge swaths of oaks at the lower elevations where the oak mortality due to drought looks the highest. The Joshua tree resprouting seems to be unaffected by the lack of water so far, whether on branches, at root crowns, or of the more typical clonal type.
Some of the larger flannel bush seedlings are holding on.
Even across the street in the Largo Vista Fire (2010) burn scar, things are looking very dry, and I found a whole stand of mountain mahogany shrubs 4 to 6 feet tall that dried up and died this year before blooming. Time is not enough for plants to grow and thrive in a burn scar; we also need water. If this drought continues, all of the western lands that burned in the 2020 and 2021 fire years are going to have a very rough recovery and are more likely to undergo type conversions.
Drying out tucker oaks in the Largo Vista Fire (2010) burn scar.
But there is hope. The weather pattern is shifting. Currently a mix of rain and snow is predicted for this Thursday December 9, and another storm looks likely around Monday December 13. Precipitation estimates for these events are still very modest, but hopefully they will deliver some moisture, and mark the beginning of a late but relatively wet winter.
This mountain mahogany resprouted after the Largo Vista fire and held on for 11 years only to die this year from lack of water.
You can see more of my observations along with those of others in this part of the Bobcat Fire burn scar by searching zip code 93563 at https://www.inaturalist.org.