By ,
President

Thank you for your outpouring of kindness these past few weeks as our staff and close partners are weathering the CZU Lightning Complex and other regional fires. It’s difficult to comprehend the extent of the ongoing destruction across the West Coast, and our hearts go out to everyone facing these massive active fires and to those who have lost loved ones. From all of us at POST, I want to express our deepest gratitude for your continued support during this challenging time — it is so very much appreciated.

As of now, I’m relieved to share that the CZU Lightning Complex fire’s boundary is not expanding, and CAL FIRE reports containment of over 90%. This is great progress given the fire’s size, often unfavorable weather conditions and record-breaking heat. That said, the fire is still burning and dangerous, so we continue to follow CAL FIRE for directives and updates.

Helicopter from CAL FIRE over the Santa Cruz Mountains
A CAL FIRE helicopter carries water to help extinguish flames threatening residential structures near Boulder Creek. Photo: Teddy Miller

What We Know

We have a long way to go, but a few things are clearer since my last post. First, all of our six staff members who were evacuated have safely returned home. Our thoughts remain with the communities and the families who have lost homes, dreams and livelihoods. We know that many continue to live with a lot of uncertainty and challenges ahead.

Burn scar from previous fire on oldgrowth within Big Basin SP
A burn scar within an oldgrowth redwood tree in Big Basin State Park shows the resiliences of these ancient Californians. Redwood trees can often remain alive, like this one has, even when these cave like cavities are quite large. Photo: Gary Kavanagh

Fire in the Redwoods 

As you may have heard, fire burned through the entirety of Big Basin State Park and POST-protected Little Basin. A news crew visited late last week, so there is more information available on what took place there. It pains me to share that nearly all of the structures (the visitor’s centers, campgrounds, bridges, cabins, bathrooms, etc.) on these properties were damaged or destroyed. Additionally, all of San Vicente Redwoods, the nearly 9,000-acre property co-owned by POST and Sempervirens Fund, burned, though we have not been able to enter the property to assess the severity of the impacts. We also know that significant portions of Butano State Park and Pescadero Creek County Park were impacted as well.

For me, these were more than just “structures” — they were places where we gathered for generations with our friends and families, places where we made memories and found ourselves surrounded by the splendor of the redwood forest. I know many of you share in my feelings of loss.

As for the forest itself, it will be months, if not years, before we can fully assess the impact. That said and as you may already know, fire in this landscape can be healthy and beneficial for the redwood forest as it is very well adapted to survive fire. In fact, fire is an integral part of this environment and helps to maintain the health of the ecosystem. Redwood trees, especially old growth, can withstand fire — and early indications are that many have survived.

We also know that this fire burned at different intensities across the landscape. In some places it may have positive impacts on the ecosystem, in others it may have burned hotter leaving the soils especially vulnerable and causing it to take longer for plants to grow back. We see this as an opportunity for POST and our partners to learn more about how we can focus our management practices on creating a more resilient forest ecosystem as we work toward recovery.

Smoke rising from CZU Lightening Complex Fire
The community of Pescadero watched as smoke turned to flame as the fire approached and threatened their community. Thankfully, CAL FIRE managed to hold the fire toward the edge of town. Photo: Teddy Miller

Farmland at Risk

The fire was also a huge threat to farms in and around the town of Pescadero and more broadly along the San Mateo County coast. Many of these farms operate on POST-protected land and were evacuated with little warning. Forced from their operations for several weeks, their businesses suffered as they lost their ability to harvest and distribute their products.

Thankfully, many of them, such as Blue House Farm, Root Down Farm, R & R Farms and Fifth Crow Farm, survived with little long-term damage and the farmers have returned to their land to regroup. Sadly, Pie Ranch, which lies just south of Año Nuevo State Park, was less fortunate and lost its historic farmhouse. Crops covered in ash have had to be abandoned, and staff have been displaced. They too face a long road to recovery.

Crow sits on a branch as sun sets in background amid smoke from wildfire
Wildlife are surprisingly resilient in the face of fire. But it will take us a long time to understand the extent of the impacts this fire and others in the region have had on local habitat connectivity. Photo: Heather Broccard-Bell

Resilient Wildlife

Wildlife are resilient by nature and that holds true in the face of wildfire. But there’s still a lot we’re working to understand about the impacts of this fire on our local wildlife populations. As you well know, the CZU Lightning Complex Fire is only one of the large fires that is burning in the region. The SCU Lightning Complex Fire burning in the Diablo Range, adjacent to the Santa Cruz Mountains, is also one of the most destructive in state history.

It’s clear there are significant implications to our regional connectivity. Wildlife move between these two ranges to find the habitat they need to survive. It will take us a long time to understand the effects of fire on this habitat already strained by urban encroachment.

Smoke bending over the ridgeline of the Santa Cruz Mountains
Smoke bends over the ridgeline of the Santa Cruz Mountains into the urban areas, an all too familiar view these past few weeks. Photo: Teddy Miller

What Lies Ahead

To date, we have not been able to access much of the impacted lands we have worked so hard to protect, making it impossible for us to formulate ideas, plans and ways that people can help going forward. Like you, we can’t wait to get to the point where we have concrete priorities and know how to best meet them by collaborating with our partner agencies.

Further, we are all anxious to know where we can best apply our energy and resources. Once the situation is safe, you can rest assured that POST will go to work doing what we have always done — study, evaluate, collaborate and invest in restoration in the most impactful ways possible.

I know that 2020 has challenged you too — navigating bad air quality, a global pandemic, virtual schooling, social unrest in the face of racism and inequality, and everything else this year has brought with it. I hope that you find comfort in the fact that after 43 years, POST remains. We will continue to raise the money needed to protect this place, and are working every day to understand how to build an even stronger, more resilient home for all of us in the future.

In the weeks and months ahead, the POST staff and I look forward to sharing what we learn and how we plan to stand up to the incredible challenges that still lie ahead.

Thank you for staying with us as we continue on this journey.

                         

About Post

Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) protects open space on the Peninsula and in the South Bay for the benefit of all. Since its founding in 1977, POST has been responsible for saving more than 79,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. Learn more

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