City Views Article: Hillside Fire Restoration of the Oak Woodland

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Recent fire events in our foothill communities have brought focused attention to the urban interface habitat. Naturally, a drive towards restoring that habitat would seem prudent and a best course of action. However, the regeneration of an oak woodland environment takes time and patience. While our native peoples managed their landscape with fire for hundreds of years, modern urban settlements have created a need for fire suppression and control. Understanding factors that may contribute to the regeneration of the oak woodland habitat can help in making informed decisions about plantings and management of these natural communities.

  1. Use native plants when landscaping in and near the foothills. Those plants indigenous to local foothills have the ability to store seasonal rain water in their leaves and stems. Non-native annual grasses and weeds spread rapidly and form a dense, competitive cover. These non-natives grow quickly with the spring rain, depleting surface water, and dry out much earlier in the season than native perennial vegetation.

  2. Native plant material does not build-up excess seed heads and dead material within the plant. Non-native, invasive species grow quickly and generate an abundance of dry seed heads that act like a fuel in a ground fire. They also produce a large volume of litter.

  3. Native plants have the ability to re-sprout after a fire. As a bonus, deep, extensive roots allow these plants to control soil erosion, even if their above-ground, living portion is burned off.

  4. Native plants are generally slower growing with little maintenance needed. Their open, loose habits produce low volumes of total vegetation matter. Native plants of the oak woodland habitat efficiently utilize natural resources from the surrounding environment, and provide abundant nature services for a habitat that continues to shrink.

Management of fire and fuel is a balance. Proper fuel management zones have been established by fire agencies, along with information about flammable chaparral shrubs. Beyond those fuel management zones, however, native and chaparral plants are essential components of the oak woodland habitat. Native birds and wildlife depend on this natural chaparral heritage. Limiting the amount of development occurring in and near our oak woodlands may be one way to reduce the fire risk to these sensitive areas. For detailed information on local fire codes, check the Glendale Fire Department website or call (818)548-3814.

Information provided by:

S.A.F.E. Landscapes 2008 Calendar and Guidebook. Los Angeles County Fire Dept. Division of Forestry.

Pavlik, Bruce M., et al. Oaks of California. Los Olivos: Cachuma Press, 2006.