Bishop pine

Michael Ellis

For the past 20 years I have been tromping through the Pt Reyes peninsula and one of my favorite places is the Bishop Pine forest that stretches along the Inverness Ridge. The scene is often reminiscent of a Japanese print, Old, knarled trees bent against the wind, ethereal fog misting through the thick branches. The fog condensing into water dripping off the needles and falling onto the thick understory of huckleberries and sword ferns. So beautiful and so surreal and so wet. And when I tell my fellow hikers as they pull out their ponchos in mid-summer that we are actually in a fire zone, they are skeptical. And I usually added “this is an old forest, look around you there aren’t any young trees. This woodland needs a fire for rejuvenation, it’s long overdue.” But this, of course, is the cold, detached, objective view. To actually see this forest burned as it was last week was really disturbing. I was in Pt. Reyes when the fire started and I watched it get worse and worse. On the first night I looked through my spotting scope from the East shore of Tomales bay as hundreds of Bishop pines lit up and houses nestled in among those trees burned. Periodically the propane tanks exploded, sending flames hundreds of feet into the air. Instead of mist wafting through the trees it was choking smoke and burning embers. It jumped out of the Bishop Pine forest and spread into the Douglas firs, Bays, live oaks and chaparral. And on the third day I flew over the peninsula in a small airplane. To see the widespread devastation was sobering to say the least. Bishop pines require heat to open their cones and after a fire hundreds of thousands of seeds are released. The Bishop pine forest will recover pretty quickly, the coyote bushes will be back by next summer and the spring wildflower display could be the best in years. However it is going to take a while for that old doug-fir forest to get back to its former glory. I’ll be long dead by then, but the land will recover. Fire, as bad as it seems now, has been part of this landscape for eons. The best we can hope for is a mild winter, the healing is now up to Mother Nature.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.



Posted on

December 1, 2010