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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: California | Environment & Forest Defense
Fire Ecology - a view into the heart of a forest
The Forest Recovery Project spans eight years and roughly 75 miles of burn area, most of it intense, from the Station fire of 2009 in the Angeles National Forest.
In late August 2009, The Station Fire began in the Angeles National Forest. An arson fire, it would quickly grow into the largest wild fire in the history of Los Angeles County, taking lives, homes, properties, historic landmarks, and transforming familiar landscapes into what some called "moonscapes".
It would be among the first of what is now regarded as the "new normal" in fire behavior. And there will be more to come, in the Sierra Nevada and indeed, throughout the west.
The Station Fire burned a quarter of the mature conifer forest in the Angeles, and the public reaction was emotional and strong. But much...in fact most...of that reaction was not based on any sort of ecological knowledge. It was based on fear, anger, loss, and the belief that the forest had been irreparably damaged.
The Forest Recovery Project began late in 2009, an independent effort to document the natural recovery
of the forest; a recovery that began in many places as soon as the ground cooled. With the forest closed for public safety (the Angeles is notoriously steep and the surface geologic composition is largely loose ravel to begin with, made much more loose by the absence of surface plant growth) the recovery of the forest was not something that most Angelinos could experience, and which few understood.
The Forest Recovery Project sought to capture the regeneration of life from an organic and artistic standpoint, "blurring the lines of art and science" and being a voyage of discovery rather than a didactic monologue.
Roughly one hundred thousand images are now available for viewing. Arranged by year and then by month, the Project is still a work in progress, with months of images being added as they are edited. The decision was made to release the collection for viewing in its incomplete state because, even incomplete, the volume of work is substantial and the message is timely. Fire is part of the California ecology. It was a tool used by the indigenous inhabitants of the region for thousands of years and part of what we are experiencing now - these catastrophic fires - is the result of our own desire to eliminate fire from the natural landscape.
We have reached a sort of tipping point...where after one hundred years of fire suppression, fires are getting too big and too hot and too volatile to suppress.
We can think of the last decade of fire in another way...as a reset button. Now that these landscapes have burned or will soon burn, how will we manage them differently going forward?
The goal of the Forest recovery Project is to reach the general population and provide a better understanding of fire as a natural element; to offer the reassurance that forests can and do recover from fire, and to share the beauty of that recovery, fostering a relationship with our local wilderness that is based on a better understanding of it.