Nine months after the horrific fires that ravaged so much land in Sonoma County, environmental scientists are now learning from the land and watching its cycle of renewal. Fire scorched 90% of the 3,200-acre Pepperwood Preserve in Sonoma County, and the forest of Black Oak was decimated by half, despite the fact that these trees are among the most fire-resistant oaks.
Yet the Preserve’s stewards are spotting bumper crops of wildflowers, tall grasses, and growth among the stands of remaining trees as well as new growth among the Redwoods’ canopies. Preserve manager Michael Gillogly attributes the resurgence to a burst of nitrogen from the incinerated plants, which fed the Manzanita seeds below the soil. And a former resident biologist, Greg de Nevers, has identified 43 “fire follower” plants in the Preserve recently.
These men, among others who are studying the Preserve’s comeback, are appreciative of what an advisory council of Wappo tribal members are teaching them from their cumulative knowledge of thousands of years of caring for the forest. As a result, they will be changing some of their procedures to keep the forests clear of the underbrush and cut logs that add fuel to a fire.
Preserve Offers New Accessibility
Another preserve in Sonoma County has undergone a renaissance effort of the man-made kind. The Wildlands Conservancy and the Sonoma Land Trust have been constructing a new gateway to the 5,639-acre Jenner Headlands and adjoining Pole Mountain, expected to be completed by fall 2018. It runs along 2.5 miles of the coastal highway and offers 14 miles of hiking trails connected to the Little Black Mountain Preserve.
A six-acre area at the edge of Highway 1 offers a parking lot and a day-use area with restrooms, picnic tables, and a scenic overlook. The new infrastructure and path lead to a steep hillside rising 1,000 feet above the highway about a mile and a half north of Jenner. And Pole Mountain will be more accessible for a total elevation gain of 3,500 feet.
This Preserve, once used for timber production and cattle grazing, is the single largest conservation land acquisition in Sonoma County's history.
"Rebuilding Sonoma County: Revival underway at fire-ravaged Pepperwood Preserve," Press Democrat, June 22, 2018. Photo of Preserve Education Director Margaret Boeger with summer camp kids.
"Jenner Headlands Preserve opening in sight," Press Democrat, July 10, 2018 (Photo by Press Democrat photographer Alvin Jornada shows a Wildlands Conservancy regional director, Brook Edwards, on the land.)