The beauty of old-growth chaparral. Looking north from East Camino Cielo, Santa Barbara.
A close-up view of another old-growth stand of chaparral (minus the planted pine trees in the background). Photo: Near Painted Cave, above Santa Barbara taken 7/09.
Old-growth chaparral being unnecessarily clearcut by a mechanical "masticator" in the Painted Cave area above Santa Barbara, June, 2010. This type of habitat destruction is not only damaging to the enviroment, but does not produce the fire risk reduction desired. In fact, the flammable weeds that will ultimately colonize the area will actually increase the level of risk. Notice the "treatment" is not near a home which is where vegetation managment is the most effective in protecting structures from ignition. Photo by Brian Trautwein, Environmental Defense Center.
A closer view of the large machine in the prvevious photo "masticating" old-growth chaparral near the Painted Cave area. This project is being funded by federal grants. Photo by Brian Trautwein, Environmental Defense Center.
The clear cutting is being funded by federal grants.
Here is the result of mechanical "mastication" where huge grinders have clearcut the native vegetation, ripped apart the ancient soil crust allowing the spread of weeds, and destroyed valuable watershed. Painted Cave area, above Santa Barbara, 7/09.
Only a few damaged manzanitas remain after the clearcut. Painted Cave area, above Santa Barbara, 7/09.
Another "after" scene where "masticators" have clearcut the chaparral. Painted Cave area, above Santa Barbara, 7/09.
More remnant old-growth manzanitas that remained after the clearcut. Such token specimens often die due to the disruption of the surrounding ecosystem. Painted Cave area, above Santa Barbara, 7/09.
This 12” diameter oak stump was a tree that was masticated along with large manzanitas and chaparral within 100 feet of San Jose Creek. We were told by the those in charge of the clear cutting operation that they avoided all oaks over 4” dbh (diameter at breast height). Likely this oak was multiple stemmed which the contractors viewed as just another bush. Photo: Brian Trautwein, Environmental Defense Center.
Mastication right to the edge of San Jose Creek. According to records we obtained, the Fire Safe Council mitigation measure mentions a 100-foot setback from creeks. Photo: Brian Trautwein, Environmental Defense Center.
Another photo showing mastication right to the edge of San Jose Creek. By removing native vegetation so close to creeks, the watershed is damaged significantly. Such damage seriously compromises the ecological health of aquatic habitat. Photo: Brian Trautwein, Environmental Defense Center.
Although many believe goats are the "natural" solution to eliminating native ecosystems they see only as fire hazards, goats are in fact extremely damaging when used in pristine habitats (as shown above). They eat the thin cambium layer on shrubs like manzanita, causing the plant's eventual death. Their hooves break up ancient soil crusts causing soil disturbance that leads to weed invasion (see next photo). These annual weeds then present a maintenance problem every year because they grow quickly, their dry remains extend the fire season, and are in fact more flammable than the native shrubs they replaced. This photo taken in the Painted Cave area.
Weeds after goats. A close up of the invasive weeds that replace the native shrubland ecosystem after slashing and goat activity. Painted Cave area, above Santa Barbara, 7/09.
Freshly "treated" area in foreground (middle left) with previously "treated"areas in the distance filled with invasive weeds. Los Padres National Forest above Santa Barbara taken 7/09.
The area to the upper left was recently clearcut to remove native shrubs. Highly flammable, weedy fuels (seen in light brown) have filled in an area treated several years before (middle/right). Los Padres National Forest above Santa Barbara taken 7/09.
Note the progression of weeds in the Painted Cave clear cut areas. Some, however, do not believe this can happen and promote the notion that chaparral is the real invader, taking over grasslands that never existed. The following quotes came from a recent editorial in the Santa Barbara News Press. "These purported experts maintain that clearing in the chaparral plant community creates massive weed invasions that promote rather than inhibit wildfire and destroy the native plant community in the process... Nowhere in my local experience have I seen any type conversion (one plant community replacing another in an area) or permanent noxious weed invasion directly attributed to fire hazard reduction." "In fact chaparral has successfully established itself in much of what was grassland a century ago in the Santa Barbara front country and in other areas no longer grazed." - Ted Adams, 9/11/10 Santa Barbara News Press editorial, A clash of well meaning.
To the untrained eye this may look like a natural scene, but it is in fact an example of a seriously compromised native ecosystem that has been purposely converted to an invasive weedland. Most fires start in such weedlands along side roads. East Camino Cielo, Los Padres National Forest above Santa Barbara taken 7/09.
The future of San Marcos Pass above Santa Barbara? As chaparral is cleared, repeatedly burned, and modified by human action, all that remains are weeds and a few remnant shrubs. This photo was taken of a type-converted area in Riverside County.
Why is the mismanagement of chaparral so harmful?
Because of increased fire frequency, we are already losing vast areas of native shrubland to weeds. By adding to this loss through clear cutting, we are further threatening California's most characteristic native ecosystem. Rather than valuing chaparral as a natural resource, many see it only as a fuel in need of mitigation. Photo details: The process of turning shrublands to weeds. The upper left area in this photo was last burned in 1970 and remains a healthy chaparral stand. The middle portion is properly recovering from a 2001 fire. However, the right foreground shows the impact of too much fire. It was burned in 1970, 2001 and again in 2003. Most of the chaparral shrubs have been eliminated. Invasive weeds are filling the void. Site: Cleveland National Forest off Interstate 8 near Alpine. For additional information on this topic, please see:
The Gibraltar Rd/East Camino Cielo "fuel treatment" project. This entire mountain was once covered by a pristine native shrubland ecosystem. It was eliminated in the name of fire protection even though the area is miles away from any population center. Photo: Los Padres National Forest. Taken by Los Padres Forest Watch in 2007.
This satellite photo shows the remoteness of the Gibraltar Rd/East Camino Cielo "fuel treatment" project. It can be seen in the center of the satellite photo. Notice this project does not function to protect any community since the nearest community is miles away. Federal fuel treatment grants and quotas are based on "acres treated," not on how necessary or effective funded projects may be.
A closer satellite view of the Gibraltar Rd/East Camino Cielo "fuel treatment" project. The loss of native shrublands due to increased fire frequency by human activity is being accelerated by these kinds of invasive land management actions.
Windy Ridge fire break. It has been suggested that the portion on the left of the fire break was burned during the Gap Fire (right) when an electrical line arced, igniting the vegetation below. However, residents at the community of Painted Cave have testified that the Gap Fire did indeed jump over the fire break and continued its westward spread. Research has also demonstrated that such fire breaks are not useful unless occupied by fire crews.
At the top of the Windy Gap "fuel break." Note the invasive star thistle weed at the base of the sign... a poignant reminder of what arrives soon after previously undisturbed soil has been bulldozed. -Photo: Los Padres National Forest above Santa Barbara taken 7/09.