Earth Notes: Schultz Fire Habitat Islands

Jul 18, 2013

It's been 3 years since the Schultz Fire seared more than 15,000 acres on the San Francisco Peaks north of Flagstaff. About 2/3 of that area, mostly ponderosa pine and mixed conifer forest, was moderately to severely burned. But native plant species have been helping to restore the area.

Fresh vegetation grows in the Schultz Fire burn area
Credit Kris Haskins

Invading weeds took full advantage of the bare ground. Kris Haskins, research director for The Arboretum at Flagstaff, says "weeds love disturbance." They produce lots of seeds, frequently have deep roots and grow quickly - so they prevail over most native plants in the race to colonize the soil.

The Arboretum is investigating how to restore the burned habitat as quickly as possible. The challenge is to get rid of the weeds and replace them with natives. For that reason, Arboretum workers have been planting and seeding "islands" of perennial plants such as lupine, , verbena, hoary tansyaster and mountain muhly and little bluestem grass.

The hope is that native species on these concentrated habitat islands will establish, shade out the weeds and spread seed naturally. This spring a survey showed 35-45% of the native species survived.

Private homeowners in the Schultz flood zone were also inundated with weed seeds that washed down after the fire. The Arboretum is working with them to remove invasive species and re-vegetate with natives.

Numerous volunteer groups have also helped out by replanting some areas with native tree seedlings. As a new monsoon season begins, all these native plants will continue the long process of healing the mountain's fire scar.