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A Woodpecker’s View of Big Basin

By Brenda Holmes

As I sit down to write this article, parts of Big Basin are still burning. The fire that left people homeless, burned historic buildings to the ground, and damaged the infrastructure of California’s oldest state park is still smoldering under the surface in places. Thousands of trees succumbed to the fire, and tree canopies scorched by the inferno will cause trees to keep failing for years to come. It has been hard to see past our mourning for all that was lost. From our human perspective, this fire was a very negative thing. From nature’s perspective, the fire also sparked rejuvenation.

Regrowth in Big Basin | Photo by Sean McLean

Fire is inevitable in California because of our climate. The plant and animal communities that call Big Basin their home are adapted for fire and, in some cases, need it to thrive. After a period of intense and destructive burning, last summer’s fire settled down in a way that was, for many of nature’s creatures, a revitalizing experience.

Big Basin is going through a natural cycle. Yes, it is recovering from a burn, but this period also brings blessings for many of the park’s inhabitants. As Senior Environmental Scientist Tim Hyland reminds us, “This cycle is great for woodpeckers. It is not recovery for them. They are going to thrive!”

Woodpeckers are our not-so-silent partners in helping with the important re-construction work that has begun in Big Basin. Pileated woodpeckers, who are thought to mate for life, are getting busy creating nesting cavities in the trunks of the dead trees which they will abandon later, after their young have fledged. These roomy homes will then be available for their Big Basin neighbors including owls, birds, squirrels, raccoons, and bats.

Will Big Basin be the same after the fire? No, it will be different, just as a forest is different each time we enter it. The tiny green shoots popping up alongside the blackened tree trunks are wonderful reminders of just how resilient our redwood forest is. We who so love Big Basin are also resilient, and plans to restore and rebuild have already begun. We look forward to the time when we can return to Big Basin to create new memories and bestow new layers of meaning upon this iconic park.

Brenda Holmes is Executive Director at Mountain Parks Foundation. MPF is a non-profit organization whose mission is to inspire the next generation of stewards of Big Basin and Henry Cowell.

MPF funded the new Nature Museum and Research Center in Big Basin which was scheduled to open in Spring 2021. Tragically, the museum was completely destroyed by the CZU Fire. MPF has created a recovery and restoration fund for rebuilding Big Basin. Donate to MPF’s Big Basin Recovery Fund

Featured photo of Pileated Woodpeckers by Stephanie Starr

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