Map of the Ledson March area with the Trione-Annadel State Park

Surveying for Survivors

December 10, 2018

Santa Rosa, California is well known for vineyards, arts, and culture. But, the locals know that one of the many benefits the city has to offer is outdoor recreation. Trione-Annadel State Park is among the area’s most popular parks, with 5,500 acres of rolling hills, streams, meadows, and woodlands. The Ledson Marsh area of the park started out as a reservoir to water eucalyptus trees, but it is now home to cattails, tules, native grasses, and a variety of critters, including salamanders, snakes, lizards, rabbits, turtles, scorpions, and frogs. The marsh’s most prized species is the threatened California red-legged frog.

Photo of charred vegetation and tress in the after math of the wildfire.

photo credit:Veronica Davison, USFWS.

In October 2017, the Nuns wildfire ripped through Ledson Marsh leaving charred vegetation and wildlife behind. While prescribed burns are an important land management tool that can benefit an ecosystem and provide a measure of safety for surrounding communities and firefighters, severe wildfires can damage soil, watersheds, and water quality—affecting people and wildlife. Prescribed burns are controlled, researched, and planned. They are slow-moving ground fires that allow area wildlife time to relocate. Although there could be loss of individuals, it does not negatively impact wildlife populations. Wildfires, on the other hand, are often so fast moving that wildlife are overwhelmed by the fire’s intensity and speed.

Background Photo credit: Veronica Davison, USFWS.

Photo of charred scorpion.

photo credit:John Cleckler, USFWS.

The Nuns fire hit during the driest part of the year. Not only did the upland area surrounding the marsh burn, the marsh itself burned. According to Sonoma County Water Agency’s Senior Environmental Specialist, Dave Cook, the “marsh had no standing water when the fire burnt Southern Annadel State Park. Nearly all of Ledson Marsh’s watershed burned, including the marsh.” With a specialization in wildlife, he has studied Ledson Marsh for over 20 years.

Photo of charred area

Photo credit: Veronica Davison, USFWS.

Background Photo credit: John Cleckler, USFWS.

Photo of team and volunteers making observations at the marsh.

photo credit:Veronica Davison, USFWS.

Cook’s data and observations help track how the marsh has changed over time. “It’s rare to have the volume of pre-fire data about this unique habitat Dave has collected over the years,” said Jennifer Norris, Ph.D., field supervisor of the Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office. Nearly six months after the wildfire ripped through the Ledson Marsh, several of Dr. Norris’ staff joined a team of volunteers who work with Cook to collect water samples, count amphibian egg masses, and document other observations at the marsh. “These data, coupled with Dave’s research will help us better understand the short- and long-term impacts wildland fires have on wildlife and their habitats.”

Background photo credit:Veronica Davison, USFWS.

First built as a reservoir to water eucalyptus trees, prior to the October 2017 Nuns wildfire, Ledson Marsh was mostly overgrown with cattails, tules, and native grasses.

Photo credit:Dave Cook, Sonoma County Water Agency.

Photo of scenic area before the wildfire.

Photo of charred area

Photo credit: Dave Cook, Sonoma County Water Agency.

In the October 2017 Nuns wildfire, Ledson Marsh and the surrounding oak woodland area burned.

Background Photo credit: Dave Cook, Sonoma County Water Agency.

Photo of a charred area.

photo credit:Veronica Davison, USFWS.

Photo of area filled with water but can still see signs of the wildfire.

Photo credit: Veronica Davison, USFWS.

By Spring 2018, Ledson Marsh was filled with water again, but was far from normal. The charred remains of wildlife, plants, and signage, were a reminder of the devastating fire that ripped through the area.

Photo of charred remains of wildlife.

Photo credit:John Clecker, USFWS.

Photo of unrecognizable signage about the marsh.

Signage posted to inform visitors about the marsh was completely unrecognizable due to the intensity of the wildfire.

Photo credit: Veronica Davison, USFWS.

Background photo credit:Veronica Davison, USFWS.

To participate in the survey, biologists like Sarah Markegard take special precautions to avoid contaminating the marsh by dipping their boots and waders into a disinfectant solution.

Photo credit:Veronica Davison, USFWS.

Photo of biologist Sarah taking precautions with disinfectant solution.

Close up photo of found newt eggs.

photo credit:Veronica Davison, USFWS.

Photo of John holding newt eggs attached to the reed.

“When I found the newt egg masses attached to the reed, I realized that this species had somehow been able to survive despite the fire. That, and the new vegetation growth, gave me hope that the ecosystem would rebound and perhaps our target species, the California red-legged frog, had also weathered the event.” — John Cleckler, fish and wildlife biologist, USFWS

Photo credit:Veronica Davison, USFWS.

Background photo credit:Veronica Davison, USFWS.

Photo of 2 people observing recovery in the marsh

photo credit:Veronica Davison, USFWS.

Close up photo of Leif holding a frog.

“It was and is a great relief to see how resilient the area is. While there was certainly a loss, the native populations survived and can continue to be enjoyed by the public.” — Leif Goude, fish and wildlife biologist, USFWS.

Photo credit:Veronica Davison, USFWS.

Close up photo of a frog in the marsh.

Photo credit:Veronica Davison, USFWS.

Close up photo of moth in the marsh

Photo credit:Veronica Davison, USFWS.

Close up photo of lizard in the marsh.

Photo credit:Veronica Davison, USFWS.

Close up photo of a hare in the marsh.

Photo credit:John Cleckler, USFWS.

Background photo credit:Veronica Davison, USFWS.

Close up photo of salamanders surviving in the marsh.

photo credit:Veronica Davison, USFWS.

Photo of Sarah in the marsh.

“I wanted to go on the site visit because I didn't feel I could fully understand the effects of the Nuns Wildfire without experiencing it in person. I was right.” — Sarah Markegard, fish and wildlife biologist, USFWS.

Photo credit:Veronica Davison, USFWS.

Background photo credit:Veronica Davison, USFWS.