UPDATE: The prescribed burn at Van Hoosear is now tentatively scheduled for Friday, May 22, dependent on weather conditions.
Sonoma Ecology Center, CalFire and other partners s are planning a prescribed burn at the privately owned Van Hoosear Wildflower Preserve west of the City of Sonoma in mid to late May.
The exact date of the one-day burn depends on which day meets the strict conditions of the burn permit, including temperature, wind and humidity. About 35 acres of grassland at the 162-acre Preserve are targeted for the burn, which will be conducted in cooperation with prescribed-fire professionals, state and local fire agencies, and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.
Restoration and Fire Ecologist Jason Mills, who leads Sonoma Ecology Center’s Restoration Department, noted that unlike out-of-control wildfires, carefully controlled prescribed burns can safely remove flammable invasive species while promoting healthy vegetation—including the dozens of species of native wildflowers found at the Preserve.
One particularly pesky invasive is Medusahead, a nonnative grass that creates a thick layer of flammable thatch that smothers native wildflowers. “Cattle avoid eating its prickly seed head, so despite careful summer grazing at the Preserve, Medusahead continues to expand,” Mills noted.
Prescribed burns in 2017 at Bouverie Preserve near Glen Ellen, and in 2016 and 2017 at Pepperwood Preserve northeast of Santa Rosa, successfully reduced Medusahead—and reduced burn intensity during the Nuns Fire. The planned burn at Van Hoosear has the same objectives.
“We are excited to demonstrate this effective, time-honored land management approach that can rejuvenate the amazing wildflower meadows of the Van Hoosear Wildflower Preserve,” said Sonoma Ecology Center Planning and Partnerships Advisor Caitlin Cornwall, who is overseeing public outreach on the prescribed burn.
Cornwall said Van Hoosear’s neighbors already have been notified by mail, and that other steps are being taken to make sure no one is surprised when the prescribed burn takes place.
Since 2004, Sonoma Ecology Center has worked with the owners of the Preserve to manage its wildflower meadows and grasslands, oak woodlands, and riparian habitats. This property has a conservation easement that protects it against future development and preserves its abundant beauty and rare mix of native plants and animals.