Comments by Chaparralian

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Posted on September 21 at 11:21 a.m.


Great historical reflections here and an excellent final conclusion on the need to focus on homeowners. However, it would be helpful to make a distinction between what we know about chaparral fires and what some people want to believe.

The data is clear:

1. Large, continuous stands of chaparral in excess of 50-150 years old is the natural condition in the Los Padres. It has nothing to do with what we have "allowed" to happen as the last speaker in the article suggested when referring to junk in his yard.

2. The chaparral in the Los Padres is not "too clogged with dead material." This again suggests that this is somehow an unatural condition that we have caused. What needs to be understood is that old-growth chaparral is no more "clogged" and in need of human intervention than the remarkable lodgepole forests in Wyoming that have fire return intervals on the order of two to three centuries.

3. To suggest that "fire be returned to the landscape" is contrary to our scientific understanding of chaparral ecosystems in Southern California. Chaparral areas of the Los Padres (which is most of the "forest") are well within their normal fire return patterns and many actually have TOO MUCH fire. This is based on rigourous research conducted by the USFS and many independent scientists. This of course goes against the mythology accepted by many fire managers and the public, which is why it is so critical for the media to get the story right. Chaparral is NOT forest and ideas about how to manage forests are not applicable to shrublands.

4. Regarding the controversy over prescribed burns and fuel breaks, the main issue is really over misunderstanding the science and the political pressure to "do something." The science is clear - STRATEGIC vegetation treatments can be helpful under the right conditions, but otherwise they can cause more harm than good. "Strategic" means near communities or in small areas that can serve as anchor points for fire suppression activities. It does not mean broad-scale prescribed fires and a fuel break on every ridgeline. Unfortunately, the public is encouraged to think that if we just repeatedly burn off, grind up, or graze large areas of the Los Padres, everything will be fine. This is not only contrary to all we know about chaparral ecosystems and fire, but would destroy the very natural resource the USFS is charged to protect and the public enjoys.

5. Huge wildfires will occur in Southern California regardless of how the government 'manages' its lands:they are an inevitable part of life here.

For additional information, please visit The California Chaparral Institute's "Fire and Science" page on their website:

On Refugio Fire September 6-15, 1955

Posted on August 10 at 3:49 p.m.

Dear BillofSM,

To put things into perspective, old-growth chaparral is not "old rutted brush" that fails to provide important watershed values. It is in fact an incredibly important natural resource that is slowly disappearing because of too many fires rather than not enough. Old-growth chaparral is one of the most effective vegetation types to allow water to slowly percolate into the soil, permitting the aquifers to recharge. With all the fires SB County has experienced over the last couple years, the challenge now is to keep fire OUT of these areas for at least 30-45 years to allow the chaparral ecosystem to properly recover. If not, then these important vegetation communities will disappear and be replaced by flammable, non-native weeds.

If you want to learn more about the relationship between fire and chaparral, what the best way is to protect your home from wildfire, and why chaparral is a valuable natural resource, please visit the California Chaparral Institute's website. They have a lot of great info.

On La Brea Fire Doubles in Size Overnight

Posted on May 15 at 4:34 p.m.

Fire Eagle, while it may sound like a compelling argument to conduct controlled burns to reduce fuel loads, the real issue is the flammability of structures. By attempting to do landscape scale vegetation treatments all you will end up doing is eliminating native plant communities with highly flammable, non-native grasslands. Lower fuel load yes, but now you have a new fire regime where there can be a fire every single year. And these fires fueled by grass can be every much as dangerous and shrubland fires. This is what is happening at lower elevations in the San Bernardino National Forest and could well happen in the mountains above Santa Barbara if the public panics and demands that native chaparral is removed via controlled burns or other types of treatments. More than a dozen people died and several million burned in the 2005-06 grass fires in Texas and Oklahoma.

For additional information on the whole controlled burn issue, the "Fire and Science" and "Fire and People" pages on the California Chaparral Institute's website are excellent resources.

On None

Posted on May 15 at 4:13 p.m.

Thank you Mike_P for helping folks understand the real issues involving aerial support on wildfires. There are so many misconceptions out there about the effectiveness of water drops, fixed wing aircraft, etc., it is refreshing to hear someone speaking the truth for a change.

Probably no surprise to you, but politicians make the matter worse. In San Diego County for example, the Board of Supervisors leased two of those "superscooper" fixed wing aircraft last year instead of the Skycranes the fire service had recommended. But boy, do those huge drops of water from the superscoopers look dramatic on the front page!

Some day I hope we can find a political leader down here that will not only tell the truth about fire, but implements recommendations from people who know what they are talking about.

On None

Posted on January 1 at 8:27 p.m.

Excellent job Dr. Muller!

Regarding Larry Saltzman's comment about Native American burning, the point Muller was making was that repeat fires are unnatural and will ultimately eliminate shrubland ecosystems. While Native Americans certainly used fire, we really don't know for sure how much and in what context.

As you know, natural systems in California adapted and survived for millions of years before humans entered the scene. Fire was used in aboriginal times to modify the environment in a way that best suited survival needs. The historic observation that some Native Americans used fire to modify the landscape does not mean it is something we should emulate today.

Despite our lack of definitive data, it is probably safe to say that the relative impact of Native American burning in the coastal portions of California was probably quite significant. Ethnographic studies and other historical documents (some of which Anderson cited) show that California Indians were responsible for extensive burning and type-conversion of chaparral and other shrublands to grasslands in order to increase favored game species, protect themselves from predators (the favored habitat of the California grizzly bear was chaparral), and as a tool of warfare. They almost certainly increased fire frequencies over what was naturally possible due to lightning.

Ecosystems within the coastal region of southern California were likely the most heavily impacted by Native American burning and may have ultimately set the stage for the successful spread of invasive European grasses in the early 1800's. For example, southern California oak savannas in the past (such as those seen along US Highway 101 between Lompoc and San Luis Obispo) were likely covered by an understory of sage scrub, not grass as we see today. Native Americans probably began the elimination of sage scrub in favor of grass in these areas by burning, a process that was accelerated by Spanish and American ranching activity.

So it is important to realize that while Native Americans burned, such burning activity was not an essential and natural part of native ecosystems (such as oak woodlands and chaparral). These ecosystems thrived for millions of years before the arrival of human beings on the North American continent. What we need to focus on now is how to save what is left.

On None

Posted on August 12 at 10:21 a.m.

Concerning the Chumash burning the landscape as a land management tool, we really don't know how much they did or in what context. However, since we do know chaparral plant species evolved over millions of years within the context of lightning-caused fires, the impact humans have had on chaparral systems during the short period we have been in North America can be considered harmful. By unnaturally increasing fire frequency (by both Native American and post-settlement inhabitants), many valuable shrubland watersheds have been type converted to weedy grasslands, especially in the Angeles, San Bernardino, and Cleveland National Forests.

See the webpage,
for more details.

On Zaca Fire Team Meets with Mission Canyon Residents

Posted on August 11 at 12:42 p.m.

About the "diseased and dying material and hello to fabulous wildflowers" mentioned by SB Citizen below; although wildflowers and resprouts will certainly follow and put on quite a show IF we get the necessary rain, the notion that the area burned was "diseased and dying" is a serious misconception about the native ecosystem that dominates the Los Padres National Forest and is the most extensive plant community in California, the chaparral.

Actually a better name than "forest" would be the Los Padres National Chaparral Recreational Area.

This perspective of old-growth chaparral as diseased is based on long since rejected opinions that had more to do with cattleman rhetoric about the need to "clear the brush" than anything else. There is no scientific basis for saying old-growth chaparral "needs" to burn. In fact, many chaparral plant species need 30-40 years of accumulated leaf litter before their seeds can properly germinate. Rather than being in "need" of fire, it is actually when the chaparral is being a new stage of its development.

Old-growth chaparral represents a valuable natural resource that is quickly disappearing in the southern part of the state due to increased fire frequencies.

Although the Los Padres does not suffer the same damaging high fire frequencies as the other 3 Southern California NF, that day is soon to come with growing population growth. The impact of potential continued drying in future years (possibly the by-product of global climate change) the risk of larger fires will accelerate. This will ultimately lead to the conversion of many of our priceless chaparral shrubland to weed lots as can be seen in the front country of the San Bernardino National Forest.

More info about chaparral, chaparral fires, and how best to reduce fire risk, can be found on the California Chaparral Institute website.

Stay safe everyone. You've got a great team of firefighters protecting your community.

On Fire Command Considers Burning Out Backcountry

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