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  • Brian Nguyen /

    Clayne Curtis waters saplings planted in Roseville's Maidu Park as part of an oak restoration project. A June 21 fire – thought to be arson – damaged many of the 3,000 saplings, and officials are waiting to see how many survived.

  • Charred egg shells of wild birds remain on the ground.

  • Brian Nguyen /

    Brian Castelluccio, Roseville's open-space manager, points out fire damage in Maidu Park. One benefit of the blaze was that it wiped away nonnative plants like star thistle.

Recent fires worry American River Parkway protectors

Published: Sunday, Aug. 4, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 4B
Last Modified: Monday, Aug. 5, 2013 - 10:57 am

A recent spate of fires on the American River Parkway that burned nearly 150 acres of trees and grass is raising concerns among environmentalists about the long-term impact of fires along the river.

"I'm seeing more resources lost. I'm seeing more large trees destroyed and not being replanted," said Corey Brown, an environmental lawyer and parkway user.

Authorities say most of the parkway's fires are attributable to human behavior, and some advocates are calling for area municipalities to help restore the burned groves and grassland.

"If they share nothing else, the city of Rancho Cordova, the city of Folsom, the city of Sacramento and the county of Sacramento – if they share nothing else, they share the parkway," said Betsy Weiland, land-use chairwoman for the Save the American River Association.

The parkway does have several fire defense mechanisms in place. The maintenance roads and paths that cross the landscape also act as firebreaks, said Jeff Leatherman, the county director of regional parks.

Despite budget cuts, grass along the parkway is still regularly mowed and "disked," or churned into the soil to reduce its fire risk.

Sacramento-area fire departments also have a bevy of tools at their disposal to fight fires in the parkway, and collaborate to fight larger fires. When 100 acres burned north of downtown July 25, dozens of pieces of equipment from both the city and Metro Fire departments were utilized.

From July 24 to July 27, a string of grass fires burned a combined 46 acres along the American River in Rancho Cordova.

"Automatic aid is a standard thing that we do in every type of incident," said Capt. Michelle Eidam, spokeswoman for Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District.

Putting out fires is only part of the battle to protect the parkway.

Burned-out groves from fires that happened years ago still dot the area.

Over the past several years, hundreds of acres of grass and groves of trees have burned along the parkway. While smaller vegetation has recovered, large trees take decades to grow and their recovery is more fragile.

"There's a strong need to take a look at the cumulative effect of all the fires that are happening," said Robert Sewell, a member of a local group called Friends of the River Banks.

Although Sewell said he's seen restoration work and mitigation projects done in other parts of the parkway, the 28-year Sacramento resident said that two burned-out groves on either side of the American River at Sutter's Landing Park have stood "like skeletons" since 2008.

"You don't get a lot of natural regeneration" among tall cottonwood trees, said Mary Maret, a natural resources specialist with Sacramento County. Not only do the trees recover poorly from a fire, Maret said, but the American River's beavers have a taste for young trees.

"You've got to constantly monitor them," Leatherman said.

But the news isn't all bad.

"Some (fire-damaged areas) are actually coming back right now, but they still need work," said Dianna Poggetto, executive director of the American River Parkway Foundation.

Poggetto's group has planted thousands of oak trees along the parkway in the last decade. While some of the trees planted by the group in River Bend Park were burned in a fire earlier this month, replanting is scheduled to take place this fall, said Matt Ocko, the foundation's conservation coordinator.

But the parkway's advocates say the park's users must remain vigilant.

"Every cottonwood we lose, every valley oak we lose, any habitat we lose is significant," Weiland said.

Call The Bee's Jack Newsham, (916) 321-1100. Follow him in Twitter @TheNewsHam.

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