Basin-Indians Wildfire in California's Central Coast Region

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Summary

The Basin Complex Fire burned 240,00 sq/mi of then northern Santa Lucia mountains in the summer of 2008. There is a major concern of flooding, debris flows and large scale erosion for the next 2-3 years after the fires. Theses potential events endanger the Big Sur and Carmel Valley, Salinas farm Land, Steelehad habitat, highway 1 and numerous state parks. There has been work understanding the effects fire on soils, debris flows and erosion. There is little understanding to the effects post fire, erosion and debris flows on river habitat and specifically steelhead habitat.

Location

The Basin Complex Fire burned nearly 240,000 sq/mi in the northern Santa Lucia Mountains. It burned parts of the Big Sur, Little Sur, Arroyo Seco, Carmel and numerous smaller watersheds.

Resource/s at Stake

There is a broad range of resources at risk after the fires. They include the Big Sur and Carmel Valley communities, Salinas Valley farm land, highway 1, numerous state parks and camp grounds, private residents and essential steelhead habitat.

Stakeholders

The communities of Big Sur, Carmel Valley, Salinas Valley farmers, steelhead and those concerned with there well being, Monterey County, user of Highway 1, United States Forestry officials.

Laws, Policies, & Regulations

 There are two pieces of legislation that dominate national policy for wildfire management. The National Forest Plan was a federal policy responding to the growing concern of dangerous levels of fuels in national forests. The main issues addressed by the plan are firefighting, rehabilitation, hazardous fuel removal, community assistance and accountability.  The original plan released $108 million for fuels removal in 2000 and has increased to $401 million 2005.  
 To identify where funds were most necessary Ten Year Comprehensive Strategy directed the collaborations of local tribal, state, federal, land mangers along with scientific and regulatory agencies. The four goals of the plan are improved information sharing and monitoring of accomplishments and forest conditions to improve transparency, long-term commitment to maintaining the essential resources for implementation, landscape-level vision for restoration of fire adapted ecosystems, stressing the importance of using fire as a management tool (Ten Year Comprehensive Strategy 2006).   

 The assessment of the burned area fell under the jurisdiction of the US Forestry Service and California Department of Forestry and Fire. The policies of both agencies are to provide rapid assessments of the burned areas and suggest best management practices to avoid further damage from erosion and debris flows.

Systems

The fire removes organic material and creates hydrophobic soils which decreases the infiltration rate of rainfall which intern increases the rates of erosion and flow.

Science

There has been a lot of work done on understanding post fire debris flows by the US Geological Survey. There has been some work on the long term effects of fire on watershed processes. There is a fair amount of knowledge on the life history and habitat requirements of Steelhead.

Tools

The California Department of Fish and Game has developed a well respected method for in stream fish habitat assessment[1]. High resolution LIDAR and or aerial photography can help to detect erosion and debris flows.

Future Research

 Future work should seek to understand the impacts of rain on the burned area. The greatest hazards to the communities of Big Sur is flooding and debris flows. The in stream habitats of the threatened steelhead will be effected by the erosion and debris flows. There is little understanding at the level of in stream habitat as to the effects of post fire erosion on steelhead.

References

 Basin Complex Fire Seat Report

http://cpoabigsur.org/Images/SEAT_REPORT_Fourth_Draft_9_17_08.pdf

 Basin Complex Fire BAER Report

http://www.fs.fed.us/r5/lospadres/fire/baer/gallery/basin-rehab.pdf

 Ten Year Comprehensive Strategy

http://www.westgov.org/wga/initiatives/fire/implem_plan.pdf

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