Fire plays an important role in the health of the forests of the Sierra Nevada. Humans have managed fire in the forest for centuries, but that management has changed with time. At one time, forests were burned intentionally to maintain desired open understory conditions. But in recent history, nearly all forest fires were put out immediately. However, increased knowledge of fire ecology is shifting management towards not only allowing fires to burn at appropriate times, but also using prescribed fire to reintroduce vital ecosystem processes. Despite this growing knowledge, forests are still threatened by intense wildfires and the subsequent management of the burned forest.
The 2013 Rim Fire
In some places within the 400-square mile Rim Fire, a scattered mosaic pattern of surviving green trees can be seen amidst areas that burned far more intensely. But across a vast core area of the Tuolumne River canyon and the slopes that lead up towards Cherry Lake and Lake Eleanor, tens of thousands of acres are now either completely incinerated or the needles of the dead trees are brown and lifeless.
As this picture showed, some areas were totally scorched, with not even a bush surviving. In fact, in some areas, even the down logs were completely consumed, leaving literally nothing but black skeletons of trees.
CSERC staff recognizes that there are competing views on how to proceed with fire recovery efforts within this vast burned area.
On the national level, some scientists and forest advocates protested against even a single dead tree being removed. In contrast, those focused on goals of utilizing dead trees instead of needing to cut green trees saw this as an essential time to use salvage logging to meet society’s demand for wood. Others looking at the situation from a fuels and fire perspective saw that if every dead tree was left across the 257,000 acres of the burn, the huge number of tree trunks would slowly fall over and create a massive fuel load that would result in extremely hot wildfires in the future.
CSERC strongly believes that one-size-fits-all beliefs and zealous positions won’t match the unique situation of the Rim Fire.
CSERC aims to do all possible to increase the long-term health of the burned ecosystem, including consideration for the repetitive wildfires that have become the pattern for this portion of the local region. There will clearly need to be trade-offs that consider fuel loading as well as ecological processes, soil health, risks of invasive noxious weeds, and the political realities of limited agency budgets and limited agency personnel.
More about the environmental issues facing the Stanislaus National Forest
This page describes 1 of the 4 major environmental concerns we have about the Stanislaus National Forest. You can read more about Stanislaus Forest issues in general or read about one of the other main concerns here: