Like much of Santa Rosa and Sonoma County, Pepperwood was severely impacted by the Tubbs Fire.
Late in the evening of Sunday, October 9th, the initial onslaught of fire sweeping through northeastern Santa Rosa hit the southern edge of our preserve. We are so thankful that all of the people who reside on the property were able to make it out safely, and beyond grateful for the emergency first responders who made evacuation possible here and throughout the areas affected by these terrible events.
At Pepperwood, our priority for the past week has been supporting our staff, families, and friends, many of whom have lost their homes, with others still under threat from ongoing fires. We are incredibly grateful to everyone who has offered their support. Thank you so much!
A mandatory evacuation order remains in effect for the Pepperwood vicinity and most of northern Santa Rosa so we are unable to access the property with experts for a full damage assessment. However, since many of you have asked for an update about the property, here is what we know. Please consider this provisional information. (For a personal take on our team’s first impressions post-fire, see Lisa’s October 16th letter here.)
Confirmed property losses at Pepperwood include two staff residences which were completely destroyed. Pepperwood’s Barn, which housed a small office, most of our preserve management equipment, and off-road vehicles, were also lost, as was our astronomical observatory (though Sonoma State’s GORT sensor seems to have survived!). The Dwight Center and Bechtel House are still standing, with what appears at first pass to be minor damage. We have managed to rescue our computer server, and all of our research data appears to be recovered. We are unsure about the status of the Garrison House but hopeful as we understand that Leslie Road was being using as a base of fire response operations.
The herd of cattle at Pepperwood, operated by our conservation grazing partner Holistic Ag, have survived. We believe they were able to shelter in the 22-acre grassland site of our June 2017 prescribed burn. Holistic Ag has been on-site and tending to their needs—getting them to water and getting feed from generous neighbors since there is no forage left in our grasslands.
We don’t know what percentage of the preserve has burned. Most likely the majority of our grasslands are scorched, but we know from our prescribed burn experiments that they are likely to recover and display acres of green grass, forbs and wildflowers this spring. Based on our extremely short site visit to address critical needs of our cattle and business server, we can make some other hypotheses about impacts on our native vegetation communities.
Where there was chaparral vegetation that burned, it is likely all the vegetation is cleared, but it will be also ready to re-sprout in spring. The impact on Pepperwood’s forests is more unknown. Near the Dwight Center, many oaks are still standing and it may be that a significant fraction are just fine, but it is very hard to tell at this point. In many places the understory has been cleared by fire but larger trees are standing so we will need to monitor tree mortality moving forward. We do see some big standing Douglas Fir trees that look dead, and we will have to evaluate whether some kind of clearing may be needed in specific zones.
The road to recovery for our communities will be long, but Pepperwood is already at work on what we do best—bringing a critical scientific edge to North Coast conservation partnerships.
This week we met with representatives from local, state, and federal agencies along with researchers and nonprofit organizations to discuss partnerships that discuss the immediate emergency needs of our rural community and then to help our forests, wild lands, and agricultural lands recover in a way that will make our landscapes more resilient moving forward.
Pepperwood will be building on our donor-supported Fire Mitigation and Forest Health Initiative to use science to help define short- and long-term priorities for our region.
The full status of our preserve and facilities will remain largely unknown until the mandatory evacuation order in our area is lifted and we have time to assess damage. We will keep you updated as we learn more.
Many people have been asking what they can do to help Pepperwood recover. If you’re in a position to help now, our immediate need is for operational funding.
If you are able, the most helpful gifts to us right now are cash contributions to support our recover. We need these so we can get the preserve functioning again and fully engage as science advisor to our region’s response efforts. The best way to donate now is through our website, by clicking the button below.DONATE NOW
We also encourage you to consider supporting the Community Foundation Sonoma County’s new Resilience Fund, which is supporting numerous service agencies in need.