By Kathleen Wong, UC Natural Reserve System
Burned by fire this past summer, the NRS’s Landel’s-Hill Big Creek Reserve is now suffering the ravages of landslides triggered by torrential rains dumped by an atmospheric river. The Dolan Fire, set by an arsonist in late August 2020, denuded vegetation across the rugged reserve, which stretches across 1,750-acres of Big Sur from the Pacific coast to the ridgeline of the Santa Lucia Mountains. As the living root networks of plants are critical for holding soil in place, the fire left the reserve’s steep slopes vulnerable to landslides.
Then an atmospheric river dumped 9.4 inches of rain between Jan. 26 and 29, 2021. The deluge waterlogged reserve soils and triggered landslides. Big trees crashed into the canyons and clogged the reserve’s namesake creek with a logjam of splintered trees. Full to bursting, the creek swept away willows and other riparian vegetation, leaving behind eroded banks and bare soils. Mud and boulders littered formerly well-groomed reserve roads, and a falling tree flattened an outbuilding adjacent to the reserve’s Gate House. Tons of soil washed into the ocean, staining the waves coffee brown.
Beyond Big Creek’s gates, the storm crumbled a portion of State Route 1 north of the reserve into the sea. The highway is partially closed for repairs.
The photos below, provided by Big Creek director Mark Readdie, provide a glimpse of the gargantuan cleanup task facing reserve staff.