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Sonoma County Gazette
Oak Seedlings

Acorn to Oak

Post-Fire Recovery Effort to Sustain
Sonoma County’s Oak Woodlands

Dec 29, 2017


By Brent Reed, Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation

Most of our native oak species are adapted to fire, which means that they can live through fires of light to moderate intensity. Wildland fires were frequent in California before modern fire suppression activities. This means that most of the large beautiful oak trees that grace our hillsides and valleys have lived through previous fires. More than 20,000 acres of the Laguna de Santa Rosa watershed burned in the Tubbs fire alone. Add in thousands more burned acres from the Nuns fire. The Pocket fire burned many thousands of acres in the Russian River watershed. These fires had some areas with extremely high burn intensity. Add up the total acreage and the areas of high intensity and the net sum is that there are likely some areas in Sonoma County where our oak woodlands did not fare so well.

 Acorns do not fall far from the tree, as the saying goes. So if post fire assessments revealed large areas of high intensity burn and high mortality of oaks, it will be difficult for the oaks to reestablish in the short term without a little bit of help. Immediately after the fires people were concerned about how our oak woodlands would respond to the fires. What would survive and what would not? We knew that it would take a while to make assessments. Mother Nature does not wait. The fires occurred in the middle of the season when most California native trees and shrubs are dropping their seeds in anticipation of rain.

Within a few days of the fires, the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation and the Milo Baker Chapter of the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) teamed up to mobilize and collect acorns from unburned areas throughout Sonoma County’s watersheds. We knew that if we needed seeds and acorns to grow plants for fire recovery then we needed to get them NOW!  Seeds need to be collected and processed when they are fresh in order to be viable. Tan oaks and Blue oaks had already dropped their acorns by the time of the fires. The clock was ticking in order to collect acorns from Black oaks, Valley oaks, Oregon oaks, Coast live oaks, and Interior live oaks.

Acorns and seeds were collected from trees near burn areas to maintain the integrity of local oak populations. Research is showing more evidence that oaks adapt over generations to the conditions on the site in which they are growing.

More than 350 individual batches of acorns were collected, processed and catalogued by trained CNPS volunteers and Laguna Foundation staff. CNPS volunteers spent more than 400 hours of their time alone. The acorns and seeds are properly stored and awaiting propagation in the nursery (to be planted next winter) or they can be directly seeded into the ground this winter. We are working with funding and support from the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District and teaming up with the Sonoma Resource Conservation District to find suitable burned properties. We are now ready to plant.


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