Saturday, May 12, 2007

Forest Fire on Catalina Stirs the Embers of Controversy

Along the southern coast of California are a chain of little islands that make up the Channel islands. The most popular of these is Santa Catalina, better known as just Catalina. It is a favorite spot for the vacation get away, and the main tourist destination is the town of Avalon.
Vacationers this week got more than they bargained for when a wildfire engulfed most of the island and drove evacuees from their hotels. The blaze was contained by Friday, and only one house and six businesses were damaged.
Scientists are sitting on the edge of their seats right now, as this fire will surely bring the decade battle over the restoration of native plants species to a head.

Historically, the Channel Islands were isolated from the mainland and had no large foraging animals on them. Unique plant species seen nowhere else in the world were found there, and in turn supported unique animal species such as the Catalina fox and the Catalina Orangetip butterfly. As people started to inhabit the islands, they brought with them bison, pigs, and goats. These animals decimated the ecosystems of the islands, and put its native animals at risk. Over the years, efforts to remove the introduced foragers were met with strong opposition from animal right advocates, who opposed killing the animals. Science has gradually won over, and now on the island the only remaining threat to plants are the bison, which are managed by the conservancy department on Catalina.
The crucial moment is now here, when the power of fire has the potential to awaken the dormant seeds of plants whose adult populations have been long extinct. This could bring new life to the island, and restore the precious habitat. A fire in 1999 had a similar effect on plants, but new seedlings were decimated by the roaming buffalo. Scientists worry that this awakening could have the effect of wiping out the potential for reintroduction if this happens again.
"If it springs back and is eaten, its going to be gone forever."

to learn more about conservation efforts on Catalina
for more info on Catalina, including the latest fire go to the Wiki site
for the LA times article on the native plant story

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