Day 2: In the Field

Today began my first day of work in the Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve (BCCER) cutting and burning piles to create a fire break before Terra Fuego and the BCCER staff and students come in to burn the forest floor. My day began with a short hike to the work site where I was met by one of the long time land stewards Paul and many of his retired friends who joined him for a day of cleanup. It seemed that age was no excuse to not get out and do their part. When I arrived they had just sat down for lunch, and after formalities, Paul gave me an ecological tour to show me the diversity of plants that I would be encountering during my work. As he explained the plants in the area it dawned on me the complexities of the forest habitat, how each ones serves a role in the functioning of a healthy forest and the effects they produce in a fire. He further explained to me the necessity of cutting foliage in order to prevent fuel for the flames. As we trimmed he told me about the manzanitas which were in abundance in the area and burn particularly hot compared to other plants. Just tinder boxes waiting to perpetuate destruction. If they were let to grow wild, a fire would quickly consume the entirety of the forest and destroy the fragile ecosystem in which many species call home. Another problematic source of fuel was the live oak, which like the manzanita, was in no short supply. It took special education to know how to properly trim this tree which if done improperly can result in trunk sprouting, where the tree grows multiple limbs creating more of a bush. Eventually this becomes full of dead branches because the live oak doesn’t drop these dead limbs, another thing that a fire would use to its advantage. The more I learned the more I realized how we weren’t just simply heading into the woods and cutting whatever we wanted. There was a process to it, which took the guidance of an educated individual in order to make sure the job was completed properly. Aside from this, I understood the relative ease and peaceful nature of the work that anyone could do. And most importantly I felt the gratification looking back at the area of forest now cleared and protected for years to come.