At Santa Rosa’s Pepperwood Preserve, nature rebounds from massive wildlfire

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Green stalks of redwood lilies grow beneath the giant trees at Pepperwood Preserve, but no one has seen the colorful, trumpet-shaped blossoms in decades.

They likely haven’t bloomed since 1964, when powerful winds pushed the Hanly fire from Calistoga to Santa Rosa, following much the same path of the deadly Tubbs fire three weeks ago. Both blazes scorched a broad swath across the 3,200-acre preserve in the Mayacamas Mountains northeast of Santa Rosa.

Redwood lilies are a fire-dependent species that require wildfire heat to reproduce, said Michael Gillogly, the preserve manager, who lived on the property for 23 years. His was one of two homes on the preserve destroyed by the conflagration that wiped out nearly 7,000 Sonoma County dwellings.

“I can’t wait to see them,” he said.

The redwood lilies fit well in Pepperwood’s rugged landscape, evolved over thousands of years not only to survive but to thrive in the Mediterranean climate of the Coast Range, where oak, fir and redwood forests, shrubs and grasslands are baked dry every summer, vulnerable to natural or human ignition.

“There is beauty in the Pepperwood landscape now,” said Lisa Micheli, president of the foundation that operates the facility located off Porter Creek Road. “It is in a renewal process.”

The property, which includes the headwaters of three creeks that flow into the Russian River, is home to 750 varieties of native plants and 150 species of wildlife, including birds, reptiles and mammals.

The fire also wrought a significant new direction for Pepperwood’s role as a scientific research facility, “perfectly positioned,” she said, to document wildland fire recovery and possibly to develop new strategies for forest management and firefighting.

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