Ecological Restoration Support for Post-fire Landscapes

Award Period
to
Award Amount
$418,000
Agency Name
USDA Forest Service
Award Number
18-CS-11050700-016
PI First Name
Carla
PI Last Name
 D'Antonio
MSI People
Area/s of Research
Ecology and Evolution
Abstract

Background

While fire is a natural disturbance across the wildlands in southern California, short interval fire and fire suppression tactics that remove vegetation and disturb soil can promote undesirable non-native species, particularly annual grasses. The characteristics of many non-native species (e.g. shallowly rooted, low live fuel moisture, high stem density, low structural diversity) reduce habitat quality for native biota and increase the probability of erosion and fire ignitions. Ecological restoration of native shrubs along contingency lines, fuel breaks and degraded areas within the fire scar is an important goal of the post-fire restoration strategy for many fires across US Forest Service lands in southern California. To date, however, restoration of native chaparral has proven challenging and costly. In particular restoration from seed has been wholly unsuccessful.

The purpose of this work is to develop and implement restoration techniques that minimize cost and maximize success within the Piru and Zaca Fire scars on the Los Padres National Forest. Together US Forest Service and UC Santa Barbara plan to undertake active restoration along degraded contingency lines and staging areas with a focus on selecting species that are competitive against non-native species and resilient to drought and moderate disturbance. In areas with vetted fuel breaks that are likely to undergo frequent disturbance, restoration will be focused on replanting native species with higher live fuel moisture than invasive annuals, and low stature to limit fire spread and intensity.  Ideally these species would also have high resistance to occasional mowing.  This strategy will help align the goals of ecological restoration with those of fuels and vegetation management. 

Statement of Purpose

The purpose of this agreement is to document the cooperation between the parties to provide analytical and field support to restoration within the Zaca and Piru Fire scars on theLos Padres National Forest, in accordance with the following provisions and the hereby incorporated Operating and Financial Plan, attached as Exhibit A.

Statement of Mutual Benefit

The collaboration will benefit both parties. Maintaining the integrity of natural resources is a priority following wildfire on US Forest Service managed lands, therefore there is a desire to increase capacity to support native vegetation recovery through ecological restoration and the creation of resilient landscapes. The Forest Service is entering into an agreement with UC Santa Barbara to enhance its capacity to conduct seed collection, plant propagation, restoration design and implementation, and field monitoring. Principal benefits to the southern California National Forests will include: partnership to enhance stewardship of US Forest Service lands, plant propagation, capacity for restoration implementation, more robust study design and statistical analysis, authorship of reports and studies, implementation of presentations, and field trips; and a report detailing the best methods for ecological restoration in areas disturbed during fire. The US Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Region has a long history of fruitful collaboration with UC campuses, and previous cost share agreements that have resulted in the training of future US Forest Service employees, long-lasting partnerships that enhance stewardship of federal lands and the production of influential publications co-written by Forest Service and UC investigators, including students, and land managers. UC Santa Barbara is among the top-rated ecological research universities in the United States, and will be a high-quality partner in collaborative projects with the Forest Service in southern California.

Student training and outreach is a hallmark of this cost share agreement and will provide much needed hands-on experience to paid and volunteer students and recent graduates. The US Forest Service, being a land management organization, is in a prime position to expose students to state and federal environmental sampling protocols, and guide students on the use of these programs to ensure the collection of defensible data suitable for environmental decision making. By executing a cost-share agreement between UC Santa Barbara and the US Forest Service, Regional Ecology Program, paid and volunteer students will gain highly transferable skills during their tenure working on the Los Padres and other national forests. These include experience in plant identification, plant propagation, restoration methodologies, project monitoring, and data collection, entry and summarization.

To this end, the University of California, Santa Barbara will benefit from this partnership in multiple ways: 1) this agreement will provide financial support for graduate, recent graduates and/or undergraduate students; 2) scholars, paid and volunteer students supported by this agreement will develop technical skills and receive training and experience in ecological field investigation and restoration; 3) paid and volunteer students supported by the agreement and primary investigators will learn Forest Service methods and field protocols in inventory and monitoring of shrubland and grassland conditions; 4) UC Santa Barbara investigators, including students, will collaborate in the analysis, write-up and publication of results in peer-reviewed science journals, which will directly benefit the investigators and further solidify the university's standing as a leader in ecological research. Through this process students, recent graduates and volunteers will position themselves for careers in field biology and become competitive for acceptance into graduate school; 5) UC Santa Barbara investigators and students will receive access to data that will form the basis for further ecological analyses, publications, and classroom curricula; 6) scholars and students will be exposed to Forest Service personnel and practices, which could provide access to future employment with the US Forest Service. 7) US Forest Service personnel will engage in classroom presentations and community outreach that highlight the partnership between UC Santa Barbara and US Forest Service. Results of the work carried out under this agreement will be presented at management and professional conferences and in seminars on campus.