"This hillside is a classic example of what old-growth chaparral should and could look like. Many areas of mature chaparral look like this when they haven't burned in a long time."
Bending down, Hogan runs his fingers through the blades of a clump of grass. "This is a native grass called Stipa. It would have been the dominant plant that grew in meadows and valleys that we drove past around Descanso that are now covered in exotic grass due to grazing."
Hogan points out some of the other native species growing on the hillside -- scrub oak, mountain mahogany, coffee berry, and manzanita. "This hillside is what's called hard chaparral," he says. "When it's mature, a person can't walk through it unless he's on his belly crawling. It's one of the most difficult kinds of vegetation to get through. There's another kind of chaparral that's referred to as soft chaparral, or coastal sage scrub. It's much more common close to the coast. It's the kind of vegetation that dominates a lot of the flatter areas of Torrey Pines State Reserve and Mission Trails Regional Park. It very rarely gets higher than waist high, and there's usually enough space between plants so you can walk through it."
Across the road, on the north side, the view is very different. There are native plants growing there. But unlike the junglish growth on the south side of the road, the north-side natives are spread out, and golden, strawlike grasses cover the ground in between them. Hogan crosses the road to the north side. "This side burned in the Cedar Fire," he explains, "and these exotic grasses grew up in the burned areas. And look at this," he bends over and easily pulls up a clump of 18-inch blades of bone-dry grass. "If you were going to start a campfire, this is what you would put under the wood as tinder. You could start this literally with a spark and a little breath to blow it into a fire. That's exactly what happens during the Santa Anas. You get a cigarette butt, you get a spark from someone welding, kids with matches, whatever it is, it flies into this stuff, you have the high winds, and the next thing you know, you have the Cedar Fire. This has a much lower ignition temperature than the native plants and grasses growing on the other side of the road."
Hogan's hope, and his work, is to get the people he refers to as "decision makers," such as Dianne Feinstein, "to realize the thing to do to protect people from wildfire is not to try and eliminate all of these 'fuels' or 'brush,' as they call them, but to leave it alone and focus instead on where people live, most importantly on using fire-resistant construction materials and maintaining reasonable defensible space around where they live and around transportation corridors so people can evacuate safely. Really, they should try to focus in on where people live, instead of trying to modify an entire landscape and, in so doing, ruining that natural landscape and, ironically, creating the greater fire risk."