Roseville turns negative into positive in land restoration

City will take a wait-and-see approach in addressing Maidu fire impacts
By: Sena Christian, Staff Reporter
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The city of Roseville’s open space division plans to take advantage of a bad situation in restoring more than 30 acres of land scorched by the Maidu Park fire June 21.

They will use conditions caused by the fire to restore the land in a way that brings it “back into balance,” as Open Space Supervisor Brian Castelluccio said during a recent visit to the site.

A look at the burnt landscape caused by what investigators are calling arson and officials say is the city’s worst urban interface fire in decades could lead a novice naturalist to question just how this negative result could be made positive: Most of the 3,000 oak trees — including 871 trees planted over the past three years — in Maidu Park appear brown and dead.

The leaves and bark are crispy. But break a twig open and evidence of green life remains inside.

“We’re trying to do everything necessary to save trees and bring them back,” said Michael Neumann, the city’s urban forester.

That effort will involve a wait-and-see approach. Open space workers won’t clear-cut the area. Instead, they will monitor the trees over the next several months to see if they begin budding. Then they will examine every single one to gauge if a tree has recovered. And only then will the city consider replanting.

“The time will tell (what) the loss is in here,” Neumann said.

He expects a majority of the trees to survive. In the meantime, crews will clean up the site to make sure no fuel is left over for potential future fires. And because of the loss of moisture in the ground and the summer heat, crews will hand water the area for the next several weeks.

The young trees in the area were planted on a three-year maintenance cycle and a five-year monitoring cycle, which means an irrigation system had been in the ground to water the oaks temporarily until the trees were weaned off. That piping has been burned to a crisp, and the city won’t install a new irrigation system.

Roseville’s approach to the Maidu arson shows how fires can have benefits in terms of land restoration.

“It costs a lot to come in and strip it clean, and now it’s been done for us,” Castelluccio said.

By that, he means the fire helped kill invasive plant species in the park and clear out areas that had grown too dense to manage. Roseville has nearly 4,000 acres of open space, which is a lot to care for, he said. And if open space isn’t properly managed, invasive species can come in and take over native flora.

The city’s open space division wants a diversity of plant species, not a monoculture — that way, if a disease comes in, the flora won’t be completely destroyed. The city plans to replant some native flora, and bushes intended to help filter contaminants out of the water that comes down from the streets into the creeks.

Castelluccio said local American Indian groups and neighborhood associations have already stepped forward with offers of assistance in any future replanting efforts.