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Wildfire management of CA’s chaparral ecosystem can devastate wild bird populations and fire-risk reduction is only temporary- new study

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February 14, 2018 University of Arizona read full ScienceDaily article here

On the tail of California’s most destructive and expensive year of firefighting ever, it might seem obvious that vegetation removal would reduce the risk of such a year happening again. But scientists are showing that in chaparral, California’s iconic shrubland ecosystem, management can devastate wild bird populations and that fire-risk reduction is only temporary.

…Chaparral is a fire-prone ecosystem in North America that is widespread throughout California. Although it makes up only 6 percent of California by area, it contains one-quarter of the species found in the California Floristic Province, a global biodiversity hotspot. To date, no other studies have compared the effects of different fire management types on California chaparral wildlife….

…Although bird species diversity and abundances rebounded after one-time use of prescribed fires, most birds never returned to masticated sites. Mastication reduced the number of bird species by about 50 percent and reduced total numbers of birds by about 60 percent….

…Much of California’s chaparral is burning too frequently to replace itself because of human-caused ignitions and longer wildfire seasons due to climate change. According to Scott Stephens, the principal investigator of the experiment at UC Berkeley, too-frequent fire can cause chaparral to be replaced by invasive grasses, which can increase fire risk.

This leads to other problems. Grasses don’t hold soils in place, so deadly mudslides may follow wildfires, such as those in Santa Barbara, California….

…”The best available science tells us that managing chaparral imperils wildlife and increases fire risk,” she said. “Our study continues to build the case that we should live densely and away from chaparral.”

Erica A. Newman, Jennifer B. Potts, Morgan W. Tingley, Charles Vaughn, Scott L. Stephens. Chaparral bird community responses to prescribed fire and shrub removal in three management seasons. Journal of Applied Ecology, 2018; DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.13099

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