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Destruction and renewal

August 10th, 2016 by Mono Lake Committee Staff
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This post was written by Sandra Noll, Birding Intern in 2014, 2015, & 2016.

The presence of wildfires has made me think about the seemingly contradictory aspects of destruction and rebirth a lot this summer.

smoldering Marina fire

The Marina Fire’s smoldering aftermath on the west side of Highway 395 evidences stark contrast to the unaffected trees, grasses and shrubs east of the highway. All photos by Sandra Noll.

June’s Marina Fire came uncomfortably close to Mono Lake Committee headquarters in Lee Vining. It was the nearest I have personally been to wildfire and, while awed and inspired by the response of firefighters from multiple agencies and the impressive accuracy of helicopter and aircraft pilots dropping water and fire retardant in turbulent winds and updrafts, I was also fearful with a dramatic new awareness of fire’s destructive capacity. This fire’s aftermath, still quite visible from Highway 395 north of Lee Vining, includes blackened hillsides and skeletal remains of individual pines and groves of aspen. Each time I pass it saddens me to see those slopes previously adorned and stabilized by green trees, sagebrush, and grasses.

mariposa plus

Mariposa lily and other grasses and wildflowers renew soil and hope one year after the Walker Fire.

The Marina fire prompted me to revisit the site of last August’s Walker Fire which burned 3,676 acres of forest and sagebrush grassland southwest of Lee Vining. Although charred evidence of that fire’s larger size and destructive power remains, there is evidence of renewal as well including a profusion of wildflowers, grasses, wild rose brambles and the beginning regrowth of shrubs—rabbitbrush and Great Basin sage. Many trees, however, seem to have been irreparably damaged by this hotter, more intense fire. Their return via seed carried by wind and wildlife will take much longer. Still the lush new undergrowth serves to enrich soil, stabilize streams, and promise hope.

meadow renewal beneath burned conifer and aspen; Mono lake in background, one year after Walker fire.

Meadow renewal beneath burned conifer and aspen one year after the Walker Fire.

In Bohler Canyon, the Walker Fire also inflicted historic loss. Large aspen groves marked with arborglyphs (names, dates, and messages carved into bark by successive groups of immigrant shepherds from Europe, South America, and Mexico) were destroyed. I had visited the grove and written of its history last year. Aspen regenerate by shoots and suckers arising along its lateral roots and I saw some sign of regeneration although the intensity of fire destroyed all standing trees and glyphs.

the intensity of the Walker fire burned and/or separated (exploded?) bark and glyphs from Aspen trees.

The intensity of the Walker Fire burned and separated the bark and glyphs from aspen trees.

Once again I was saddened by loss. More recently that loss was somewhat mitigated by discovery of another treasure-trove of large old aspen (some with glyphs dating from 1934) along the nearby Parker Creek drainage, a lovely old- growth area spared in the Walker Fire’s jumps across the landscape.

uneffected glyph 2

An arborglyph on an aspen along Parker Creek spared in last August’s Walker Fire.

More recently my attention was redirected to an aspen grove near the northern boundary of the Marina Fire where it crossed Highway 395. Renewal here is strongly evident. In just over a month, new shoots have sprouted from aspen rootstock. Grasses and shrubs also evidence regrowth. Aspen serves as an ecologic “succession” tree, seeding in where other vegetation has been lost to fire or to erosion, logging, insects, or disease. This new growth of aspen will soon provide cover for seedlings of pine and juniper as these become larger the “nurse crop” of shorter-lived aspen will die out. Once again life represents a succession of destruction and renewal.

Marina fire winding down.

Marina Fire winding down in late June.

overview of renewal on east side of Hwy 395 one month after marina fire.  and/ or

Overview of renewal on east side of Highway 395 one month after the Marina Fire.

Base of a burned aspen evidencing new shoots only a month after the Marina Fire.

Base of a burned aspen evidencing new shoots only a month after the Marina Fire. All photos by Sandra Noll.

One Response to “Destruction and renewal”

  1. avatar ed Says:

    Hey Sandra.As allways.Nature bats last.