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Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Publisher’s Notebook

• Wildfire: Reverting to Nature •


When the small convoy of cars and trucks drove through my front gate and headed toward Pacific Coast Highway, smoke and flames from the Springs Fire danced one canyon away from the Los Angeles County line.
I looked back and choked at the fleeting realization that it was a delusion that the acreage I was leaving behind belonged to me. At this point in time, despite doing all that could be done to prepare for wildfire, what would ultimately happen was out of my hands.
When the gate magnet was deactivated and the motor’s electrical power had been turned off, access to the land reverted to its original ownership, nature. It was to this owner that the powerful forces of unchecked wildfire would have to answer if they were going to be prevented from laying waste to everything in their path.
The dossier of documents, forms and maps related to the property may have my name on it, but the paperwork becomes meaningless because there are no property lines or boundaries for flames that move with lightning speed when driven by winds creating mini ecosystems that regard the houses, barns, corrals and everything else above ground as trifles to be eliminated.
Valiant and highly trained firefighters were able to save human trappings and minimize the shattering impact of the latest wildfire on residents of the communities it surrounded, but the loss of thousands of wildlife homes—from large dens to tiny nests and burrows—has taken a toll on the terrain that will take a long time to heal.
Because the Springs Fire occurred during the birthing and fledging season, most wildlife young were not ready for the arduous relocation flight dictated by the smoke and flames. This may mean a major generational loss for many wildlife species in our local mountains.
Until the winds and, in the case of last weekend’s monster-sized blaze, the rain counterbalanced the wildfire at 30 percent containment, it was anyone’s guess whether a repeat of the 1993 wildfire, or any of the disastrous Malibu blazes of the Fifties and Seventies, was in the making. Few longtime residents could remember a time when rain was more of a surprise, or more welcome.
The front gate magnet has been reactivated and the electric motor hums, but nature has not relinquished her control over the land. Because so much of the habitat one and two canyons over has been lost, deer are already clustering outside acreage that offers food and shelter.
All of the other animals, including mountain lions and coyotes, will alter their behavior to meet the same needs. Smaller animals, as well as birds and reptiles, also will gravitate toward healthier habitat, creating an environmental imbalance in areas that did not burn.
Because fire-scarred areas will soon begin the return to their former, and possibly even more vigorous, selves with the first green shoots of plant life, the less visible wildlife impact may be understated because some dismiss lessons to be learned from wildfires as too transitory to matter.
The notion that we can behave contrary to the forces of nature is hubris that ignores the reality that fire, flood, earthquake, and other acts of nature can undo our handiwork in an instant. Acceptance of nature’s upper hand should be a clause in every Malibu real estate transaction.

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