Fire and Chaparral - Some Actions

The chaparral below our house, after thinning in February
(some of the lower bare area was bare before -- it never recovered from thinning we did some years ago)

Readers of this blog will know that I've been hung up on the general recommendation that for fire safety, I must change a closed-canopy chaparral ecosystem (filled with wildlife and protecting the soil) to sparse islands of isolated shrubs (and limbed-up trees) with mulch and wide paths between. This is the third post I've done on the topic. If you want to catch up, you can read:
Fire and Chaparral - Some Questions
Fire and Chaparral - Some Answers
But.... I'm tipping into something like acceptance. I don't like that I have to decimate (well demi-mate) the landscape I moved here to enjoy. But if I wasn't here - it might not be chaparral at all. That's small comfort but it is comfort. I also want to do my part to make our neighborhood, well, not fire-safe, but at least one we can escape from during a fire.

When it came time to write my article to publicize the CNPS Santa Cruz County chapter plant sale--I wrote about what what was on my mind. The Santa Cruz Sentinel titled it:
Balancing native plants with a fire-resistant garden.
I did intense research for this article. Well I felt intense, anyway.
But I think the article has solid information and is worth your time if you are also concerned about fire safety and the landscape around your home.
The resource that put my mind sort of at rest was this set of guidelines from City of San Diego. Its focus is on MAINTAINING HABITAT as much as possible. Page 3 has the overall thinning recommendations, including PRIORITIES for what to cut preferentially:
1) invasive non-native species;
2) non-native species;
3) flammable native species;
4) native species; and
5) regionally sensitive species.
I doubt you could hire a crew that would be knowledgeable and cheap enough and had time enough to pay attention to these priorities. But for native plant savvy people doing their own work, or if you have funds to hire an ecological restoration type of a crew - they're great.

When we had a go at the chaparral in late Februrary, I hadn't found those guidelines. But in September, I think we'll pay them lots of attention.
First, my son-in-law and I worked on the area below the road. He wielded the chainsaw. We thinned a strip about 10 or 15 feet wide, depending on the vegetation.

Getting to work on the road edge

A good bit cleared

Next, Wood Rat and I, with a hard-working hired gardener, and my grandkids (well, they jumped up and down on the pile in the back of the pickup truck) tackled the area above the road.

The only ones who had fun!

Another view. 

We tend leave the things we like. Like the manzanita. But that's not what nature wants!
In September I'll try to keep nature in mind when I thin.

We worked on maybe half of the chaparral area. There wasn't time to do the rest. I'm going to cross fingers and toes and wait till September to do the rest.

Oh. and then. On Easter Weekend...

Wrentit nest, newly built

... for all my hand wringing and soul searching about not cutting back the chaparral during nesting season, I did a stupid thing. I thought my son-in-law could take down the Very Dead (i.e. very flammable) Fremontia that's close to the road. I just had to clear away a bit of coyote brush right next to the road (on a steep slope up)  so we could lower the chopped up tree into the back of the pick-up. But in cutting down the coyote brush, I dislodged a brand new Wrentit nest! Fortunately, no signs of eggs or chicks.

It was Good Friday. I was educated at British schools when religious education was mandatory, and I hated Easter. All that suffering on the cross and dismal hymns (There is a green hill far away...). So that didn't help. I felt devastated!

Wrentit gathering soft nesting material!

But then on Easter Sunday, I saw a wrentit take nesting material I'd hung up. So I felt better: the determined young couple were building a new nest! Well, perhaps it was another pair--but I allowed myself to feel comforted. And properly chastened.


monkeyflower said…
Hi, I love your blog. At the San Diego CNPS garden tour this year, there was a wonderful example of a native hillside in Poway that had been thinned and limbed up. It was still full of birds and insects. It was amazing to walk through, because you could walk through it. The open spaces between shrubs were filled with blooming bulbs and wildflowers. The only real drawback I can see would be invasive grasses that could take over if allowed. It really was exceptionally lovely.
Country Mouse said…
Thank you Monkeyflower for that encouragement! It takes a lot to manage land. I confess that is weighing on my mind. Once you mess with a habitat - the weeds do come! Right now it's pretty weed free in the chaparral areas, except "around the edges"where it borders road or driveway. I'd love to see photos of that native hillside!