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Butte Fire May Have Long-Term Ecological Impacts

Last Fall, in a few short days the Butte Fire in the Northern California foothills burnt over 70,000 acres of land. In addition to the numerous home, structures and other man-made objects, the fire also killed hundreds of thousands of trees, shrubs and was hot enough to kill the perennial grass seeds. With the ground cover gone, the area has already experienced serious problems with erosion and will likely do so for many years to come. As some of the trees killed were literally hundreds of years old and new trees planted and/or starting to grow will take hundreds of years to reach the size of the trees killed. With many of the grass seed burnt and/or sterilized by the fire, it may take years for the grass to return in some areas. In many instances areas burnt by the fire resemble a moonscape with little grass and/or greenery coming back even after the recent rains. For many of the ranchers in the area, feed is becoming an increasing problem as either the grass is not re-growing, the fencing is still down and/or fallen trees pose a problem of access and a danger to the cattle. Many residents lack the insurance and financial resources to re-build and repair what was lost and amount of assistance available in not sufficient to even start to address the issues. Erosion also poses serious issues with the local watershed and stream flows where former wildlife watering holes are filling with excess silt and local streams resemble flowing rivers of mud.

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