The King Fire burned in a classic mosaic pattern (as all fires do) with areas of low intensity, moderate or mixed intensity, and high intensity, creating a great mix of forest heterogeneity and restoring the natural ecology of this area.
King Fire of 2014
High Intensity – plantations (young tree farms planted after older logging projects)
High Intensity in mature and old forest = complex early seral forest
After the fire was extinguished the Forest Service immediately began to make plans to log the fire area, and remove this habitat that nature created.
King Fire Logging Project
The Forest Service claims that half (approximately 31,500 acres), of the fire area burned at high intensity.
In reality this figure is much lower.
This is due to the fact that many of the trees with brown needles (especially the larger trees) will flush with new green foliage in the spring and early summer of 2015. In fact most of the trees with brown needles seen in the photos below,
will grow new green foliage, sprouting from the buds at the end of their branches (terminal buds), as can be seen just starting in this photo (especially in the lower right hand corner) taken on March 26, 2014 in the King Fire area:
This natural phenomenon was also observed in the Rim Fire of 2013:
The best habitat in the King Fire area is comprised of larger areas (hundreds or even thousands of acres) where mature and old forest burned at high intensity killing most or all of the trees. This forest type, also known as complex early seral forest, is some of the most biodiverse habitat available on the landscape, boasting species diversity and abundance that rivals or exceeds what is found in green old growth forest. This includes the Black-backed and other woodpeckers, aerial insectivores, raptors, small mammals, and even the California spotted owl, which chooses to hunt in these areas because food is so abundant and easy to find.
Unfortunately, even with the King Fire burning, this habitat type is the rarest habitat type available on the Eldorado National Forest – comprising less than 4% of the entire national forest and being 12 times more rare than unburned mature and old forest, as the map below illustrates.
The next most important habitat type is the mature and old forest that has burned at moderate or mixed intensity, where only a portion of the trees have been killed, typically found where high intensity and low intensity areas meet. These areas restore much needed medium and large snags to the unburned forest, which are in gross deficit (currently 1-2 medium/large snag per acre), and are essential to supporting healthy native wildlife populations.
The Forest Service has put forward a proposal to remove, by essentially clear-cutting, almost 7,000 acres of complex early seral forest (or 35% of what was created by the fire), destroying this important habitat. In addition, they plan to significantly degrade over 3,200 acres of mixed intensity or moderate fire areas by removing most of the largest snags in these areas. This is in addition to the tens of thousands of acres of habitat that have already been destroyed by private lands logging in the fire area.
These proposed actions threatened the continued viability of the Black-backed woodpecker, and the California spotted owl, which has experienced a 40% decline in this region of the Sierra Nevadas over the last 20 years. Even still the Forest Service is planning much of this logging in dozens of historic and occupied spotted owl territories.
The Forest Service still refuses to acknowledge the importance of this habitat and the harm that results from post-fire logging, and insists that they must log in order to regenerate a forest in the areas that burned hottest, and to remove fuels to prevent a future fire. Neither of these justifications are supported by the science or the on-the ground evidence.
Our visit to the area in March of 2015 revealed the first pine seedlings naturally regenerating throughout the large high-intensity fire areas, and abundant sprouting of oak trees:
In addition scientific research has found that:
a) post-fire logging increases future fire intensity; and b) post-fire logging does not actually reduce fuel loads when compared to areas that were left to natural succession (i.e., not managed or logged) after the fire.
Email us if you would like these studies:
Dunn and Bailey (2015); Donato et al. (2013); McGinnis et al. (2010); Thompson et al. (2007); Donato et al. (2006).
The John Muir Project, the Center for Biological Diversity and Wild Nature Institute are trying to persuade the Forest Service to protect far more of the complex early seral forest and mixed intensity areas in order to protect the imperiled wildlife species which depend upon them for survival.
The Draft Environmental Impact Statement is due out in May 2015.