Designing, Implementing & Managing Restoration Projects in the Face of Wildfire

Year: 2023
Presenter/s: Brian Bartell
Symposium Session: 2023 - 08 - Restoration as Risk Reduction: Wildfire
Topics covered: adaptive management and monitoring, california, climate change, fish-salmon, flood, lessons learned, riparian, risk and resilience, wildfire, and wood


Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent each year on restoration of rivers, creeks, floodplains, wetlands, grasslands, forests, and riparian areas along the west coast. At the same time, larger and hotter fires are becoming more and more common across the region. When the two overlap, project proponents can find themselves in complicated situations. While frequent, low-intensity fire is an important component of natural ecosystem health, the high-intensity and large-scale fires that are now common pose adverse considerations. Wildfire may severely diminish the expected performance and/or delay the achievement of restoration goals at a site or throughout watersheds. Direct damages and secondary hazards after fires can create hazards and liabilities that present serious financial burdens or be physically infeasible to repair. Restoration designers, project owners and funders, land managers and regulators must prepare for the eventuality that even well-planned, thoughtfully designed and expertly implemented restoration projects will interact with wildfire.
Our presentation will review several examples of the impacts of and responses to wildfire on riverine and riparian project sites in California including both direct and secondary impacts. We will address both voluntary and compulsory restoration (e.g., mitigation) cases, which can have distinct financial, temporal, and outcome metric issues. We will draw on those examples and discuss potential impacts of damaging wildfire to both form- and process-based design efforts and the importance of including climate change adaptation goals and objectives in defining project success. One example we will present is the Upper York Creek Dam Removal and Ecosystem Restoration project site which burned in the Glass Fire during construction. The post-fire response included repairs to large woody debris (LWD) structures and modified approaches to revegetation, erosion control, invasive species management and site maintenance. Long-term post fire monitoring has shown larger than expected amounts of woody debris travelling though the creek system from the fire-impacted watershed, heightening the importance of post-storm hazard monitoring for this process-based restoration. We will also highlight secondary impacts from fire equipment at the Soquel Canyon Mitigation Bank in Southern California and the factors that were considered in determining appropriate remedial actions in riparian and upland areas.

The conflict between ecological uplift and fire wise planning can be challenging to implement, and we will use examples to show how the effects of fire can be mitigated in the planning, design, and maintenance phases of a project. A discussion of key adaptive management needs, strategic, tactical, and financial will be included to help buffer the uncertainty of wildfire effects during or following construction.