Ventura Land Trust (VLT) members had the opportunity to learn about the long-term impact that the Thomas Fire had on native plants, wilderness and wildlife during an outdoor fire ecology workshop at Taft Gardens in Ojai on March 3.

Instructors David Lee, Senior Biologist with Davey Resource Group, and Rick Bisaccia, VLT Stewardship Director, gave presentations and led the group on a mile walk through the footprint of the Thomas Fire.

Bisaccia began by discussing the chaparral near Kennedy Ridge Trail that recently burned off.

“This area is fire adapted,” Bisaccia said. “The plants that come back are from seeds already in the ground or from the crown sprout at the base.”

Bisaccia gave some examples of chaparral plants, such as the greenbark ceanothus, laurel sumac, giant rye grass and wild cucumber. He said that these types of plants have fire components to them and that the moisture in fog is an important element.

Bisaccia also said that some plants sprout after a fire clearing, such as whispering bells, which feel papery and make a rustling noise when blowing in the wind.

“The smoke or heat will cause a chemical reaction in the seed that makes them grow,” Bisaccia said.

Bisaccia also added that water bars were built in trails across Ojai for post-fire erosion control.

“It helps break the flow of the water,” Bisaccia said.

Lee presented the wildlife portion of the workshop. He said that the short-term traumatic effects on small animals such as the cottontail rabbit and woodrat were that they were burned because of their inability to run fast enough. This also includes large predators such as mountain lions.

Birds can become disoriented and may hit trees while flying because of the thick smoke. Endangered species may also be at risk if their habitats are small, such as those of the willow flycatcher, yellow-billed cuckoo, and steelhead fish.

“The ash and debris pollute the water and they lose shade; they need it to keep the water cool,” Lee said.

Lee also said that some animals take advantage of fire, such as the Australian hawk, which collects burning sticks and spreads the flames to flush out prey.
“Western fence lizard is a prey for them,” he said.

For long term effects, Lee said most wildlife will recover and creates diverse habitat edges near areas such as wildflowers and trees for shelter and food. Riparian areas such as rivers, streams and lakeshores also account for 8 percent diversity.

Lee said that the public can help by conserving water, planting trees and helping to mitigate climate change, supporting local wildlife rehabilitation and land conservation groups, and removing unneeded fencing so that wildlife can have escape routes.
Lee also stressed the importance of not providing food or water to wildlife.

“Doing this on a consistent basis only builds up a temporary dependency,” Lee said. “The wildlife will come back and look for it, and this can also attract other predators close to residences.”

For more information, contact Rick Bisaccia at rick@venturalandtrust.org or David Lee at david.lee@davey.com.