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Post-fire Vegetation Recovery

A Diversity of Fire Regimes

While California is, on the whole, a Mediterranean climate system, the sheer size of the state, and the extreme topography, ranging from the lowest to the highest points in the contiguous United States, means, that there is a huge diversity of plant communities - and hence, a diversity of fire regimes, and a huge variation in the way fire can be managed in different systems. This 2017 study from the California Fire Science Consortium gives a good overview of different drivers of fire. 


Wildflowers bloom after a fire in Cuyamaca State Park. Image courtesy San Diego State University
Wildflowers bloom after a fire in Cuyamaca State Park. Image courtesy San Diego State University
Chaparral systems are fire-adapted, meaning that they can naturally recover from wildfires. However, the presence of invasive species, and shortened fire return intervals can lead to what is called type conversion. This means that weedy species invade fire disturbed areas, and can inhibit the natural resprouting of native shrubs and wild flowers. While these systems seldom benefit from attempts to add native seed or replant with native shrubs, they do need to be carefully monitored. The fact that fires clear out plant biomass can actually provide an opportunity to get ahead of the spread of invasive annual grasses and other plants. The US Forest Service has compiled a number of resources on fire in chaparral ecosystems

Oak Woodland

Crown resprouting in scorched oaks
Crown resprouting in scorched oaks
California's oaks have an amazing ability to recover after a fire. Oaks may appear scorched and dead, but may in fact leaf out when rains occur. Even oaks that have been completely girdled by fire can re-sprout from the root crown. Woodland fire recovery resources

Coniferous Forest

California's forest systems are unique. While most of our vegetation in Southern California is dominated by chaparral and various types of sage scrub, coniferous forest may be found at higher elevations. Here are a number of fire recovery resources developed for these systems. Fire recovery in forest ecosystems