Buckwheat and other annual wildflowers grow from seed that, Lazaneo says, should sprout with the first spring rains. "They get mixed into the soil, and a percentage of that seed, in almost all cases, will survive. Fires are pretty hot, but it's rare that they're hot enough to kill all the seed in the soil."
Lazaneo says it's impossible to put a number on the percentage of seeds that will survive a wildfire. "But if you consider the thousands of seeds that are produced in one plant -- and those drop down in the soil every year, and those can be viable for sometimes five years or more -- you get hundreds of seeds in a square foot of soil. So even if 10 percent survived, you've got more than enough. And by the next seeding cycle, you're back to normal."
Because of the quick show wildflowers will bring, Lazaneo recognizes the temptation to spread seed in burned areas, a practice he says is "Fine, if you've got disturbed sites where native plants have been removed. There are going to be some wildflowers in the [untouched] native areas, but we don't recommend planting or seeding in those areas because poppies, for example, may be native to California, but they're not necessarily native to where you are planting them. And, again, if you plant anything that sprouts right away, whether it's an exotic or a native, in an area where the seeds of chaparral plants are waiting to sprout...these annual plants are designed to sprout quickly, get a root system down, and suck up as much moisture as they can so that they can grow and produce seed. That leaves less water and nutrients for the perennial shrubs that want to grow."
Depending on the amount of rainfall we receive in the next few years, Lazaneo believes chaparral areas that were burned in the county -- if left to regenerate themselves -- will return to prefire fullness in seven to ten years. "Within three years it will look nice and covered," he says.
Landowners in the burned conifer forest habitats from Julian to Cuyamaca probably will never see their forest look like it did before the Cedar Creek fire. "That is going to take a lot longer," Lazaneo explains, "because the cycle on that vegetation in a conifer forest is a longer period of time, 80 to 100 years. Cuyamaca State Park isn't going to look anything like we remember it for probably another 25 to 30 years. But, within five to ten years, things are going to look very nice there. It's just that you are not going to have this big canopy of trees like you used to. You'll get a mixture of trees and shrubs. Then the natural cycle is that over time the trees outgrow the shrubs and start shading them, and the shrubby growth tends to die out. Or, you would have some smaller fires that would remove the shrubs but not harm the trees."
Clint Powell, Snipes's partner and a longtime backcountry naturalist, believes some species of pine will never grow back in our local mountains. "Sugar pines," Powell wrote in the January 14 Julian News, "many over 300 years old, are all dead. The Cuyamaca Mountains contained the most southern location in California for these majestic trees. Many of these trees were five to six feet in diameter.... The same can be said about the Jeffrey and ponderosa pines. They, too, were enormous, inspirational, and beautiful."
Powell says the local Jeffrey, sugar, and ponderosa pines originally took root at a time when the Cuyamacas received 60 to 80 inches of rain annually. Of late, the yearly rainfall has been below 30 inches, sometimes closer to 20 inches. Because of that, he believes they will not regrow. The void, he says, will be partly filled with less enormous, less inspirational Coulter pines, but primarily filled with oaks, "ceanothus, scrub oak, and manzanita.... Without the shade of the huge conifers, chaparral plants will thrive."
Lazaneo is not against planting native trees and shrubs in burned areas. In fact, he recommends Las Pilitas Nursery in north Escondido and Manzanita Native Plant Nursery in Boulevard. He also recommends the Louis Moran Reforestation Center at the University of California at Davis. "They collect seeds from all the zones in the state," he explains, "so they can tell you what's appropriate for your area, and they can send it to you."
But before you plant, Lazaneo says, "Wait until well into the spring, late spring; see if there is any growth. And then you can cut out dead material, if you want to, and replant."