Environmental changes
Fire and restoration



October Nature Walk/Work Party A Success, More Coming Next Year

Mission Accomplished! We extend our profound thanks and appreciation to everyone who made the day such a success. Check out the slideshow for more pictures and information.

Slideshow: FireWalk and cleanup
October 2012

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  • Kirra Swenerton of SF RPD welcomes volunteers.
  • Kirra and RecPark's Christopher Campbell show San Francisco's natural areas.
  • On our way to the fire zone.
  • Kirra helping young naturalists-in-training.
  • Fire ecology 101.
  • A circle of native Irises survived the fire thanks to their tough leaves and dense rhisome cluster.
  • Time to glove up for the cleanup!
  • Rec Park provided the tools for the cleanup.
  • Trash begins to pile up.
  • Big chunks of cement? Check.
  • Clean City workers did a stellar job cleaning up Visitacion Ave.
  • Bags of garbage piling up along Visitacion.
  • Save McLaren Park's Ken finds a treasure trove of garbage in the roadside bushes.
  • SF RPD's Christopher Campbell shows off his experience at park cleanup.
  • May organized the wonderful post-cleanup lunch.

We met in the parking lot on the corner of Visitation Ave. and Mansell.  After a preliminary talk to the volunteers, SF RPD's Kirra Swenerton and Christopher Campbell led a walk through the fire area. They discussed the different ways native and non-native plants responded to the fire, and how native plants were much more adapted to fire survival than the non-natives. We saw native irises and manzanita that appeared almost untouched by the flames, and native grasses such as bunchgrass that lost their green tops but survived just fine thanks to their extensive root structures. At 10am, we returned to the parking lot and were outfitted and supplied for the cleanup courtesy SF RPD. Gloves, bags, pick-up sticks, shovels, and more were available. A quick talk on what to pick up and what to leave, and we were on our way.

Here's what we got done:

  • Over 20 folks joined us for the fire ecology walk, including several families with kids.
  • About 30 volunteers joined the work party for about 2 hours, not including 3 RPD staff, 5 youth workers from SF Clean City, or the lunch crew. 
  • About 50 bags of trash were collected.
  • Several dumping spots were cleaned up, including an amusing assortment of discarded car parts (spark plugs, radiator cap, wheel hub, oil filters, etc. ), doll appendages, and matchbox cars. 
  • An area larger than 500,000 square feet, or about 10 acres, along both sides of Visitacion Ave and the south side of Mansell were cleaned of refuse and trash.
  • After lunch, several dozen "seed balls" made by school kids (all seeds of native wildflowers and bunch grasses found in similar areas of McLaren) were planted around the burn area. After our first rains we hope to see a richly rejuvenated southern grassland.
Besides all of that, we had perfect weather, a sumptuous lunch, and smiles all around! Several of you asked,when will we do it again? We are already discussing possible future events with Natural Areas staff, and the consensus seems to be about every quarter, so we are considering January/February for the next one. We'd love to have your feedback and help!

Summer Burn on South Slope Grasslands

In early July, about 25 acres of the beautiful hills west and south of the Mansell/Visitacion parking lot burned to a crisp. We suspect fireworks are to blame but have not heard the official story yet.

All the grasses that blow in the wind like ocean waves from the fire road up to the paths close to Mansell are gone. These grasslands provide excellent cover for songbirds like Western Meadowlark and feeding grounds for raptors such as American Kestrel (who occasionally hang out on the power lines along Visitacion Ave.), as well as a variety of butterflies, bees, and other fauna. For anyone who frequents these tranquil slopes this is a sad development indeed.

Nonetheless, occasional summer fires can actually improve the health of grassland habitats in McLaren. Deep-rooted natives like coyote bush and purple needlegrass (the California State Grass) tend to survive and even thrive after a good scorching.

Fire can even increase seed germination in some species. At the same time, annual grasses such as the predominant wild oats and broadleaf weeds like the Italian Thistle can also take advantage of a fire’s aftermath and come back even stronger as well -- it’s a very complex process that depends on many environmental variables such as season, soil type, weather patterns, and so on.

Decades ago there were occasional prescribed burns in our natural areas but this practice has become more or less impossible due to air quality and safety concerns.

I grew up on Wilde Ave. and there were controlled burns regularly on our side of the hill.  The firemen would let us kids "help" by stomping on the edge of the burned area in case there were any sparks lingering. The grass and wildflowers always came back in the spring.  

So yes, things look a bit bleak now but cheer up -- quite a few plants are already sprouting again, and we can look forward to a rejuvenated southern slope after our first rains of the season. 

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