Wildfires and the Blue Oak Woodlands at Bobcat Ranch

By 2020 Summer Interns Aidan Tribolet, Sydney Fiorentino and Sophia Pilliteri

What is Bobcat Ranch?

Bobcat Ranch is a conservation property located in Yolo County. Audubon recognized the importance of this area and acquired the land in 2007 to help protect and conserve the area. The area is home for a lot of wildlife and holds various grasslands, woodlands, and wetlands. Audubon’s work with the area includes restoring acres of native grasslands. Audubon has also “fenced out spring-fed wetlands to enhance wetland habitat and protect water quality, and have more wetland restoration projects planned. Along lower Dry Creek, they’ve ‘established nine acres of forest and upstream… planted a mile and a half of Dry Creek with native forbs, shrubs and trees to restore the historically degraded riparian areas…’”

Blue Oak Conservation

Bobcat Ranch has also committed itself to the conservation of the Blue Oak Woodlands that make up the majority of the property.  Audubon California understands the importance of preserving the oak stands and promoting their conservation.  Blue oak woodland is one of the largest, most biodiverse of all California's ecosystems.  It surrounds the central valley on the foothills of the Sierra and the inner coastal ranges.  The Blue Oak Woodlands are vital to watershed protection; they regulate water flow and improve water quality in surrounding streams and rivers.  They also protect the ground by controlling erosion and preventing landslides in heavy rain.  According to Phytosphere Research, the Blue Oak Woodlands are home to 300 terrestrial vertebrate species, 1,100 native vascular plant species, 370 fungal species and an estimated 5,000 arthropod species.  The woodlands also serve as a breeding ground for many species including 57 types of birds.  Bobcat Ranch recognizes the California Quail, Acorn Woodpecker, American Kestrel, Red-tailed hawk, California Scrub Jay, Western kingbird, Western Bluebird, & Lark Sparrow as just some of the vital species that live in the woodlands.

California's Blue Oak Woodlands are threatened by a decline in regeneration.  Clearing for agriculture, livestock grazing, and suburbanization are hurting the survival of the woodlands. In many Blue Oak Woodlands there are not enough saplings to maintain the stand.  With lower regeneration levels, woodland stands have become savannas and then grasslands, which mainly consist of non-native species. 

Audubon’s Bobcat Ranch is working to promote regenerative and sustainable practices for cattle ranches throughout California.  The ranch contains over 4000 acres of Blue Oak Woodland and has a commitment to its conservation.  For both the health of the Blue Oak Woodlands and the animals that depend on them, the ranch is working to restore and maintain acorn producing oaks and saplings.  Oak saplings will be protected with browse protection tubes and fencing.  Grazing timing and intensity will also be adjusted to ensure new growth in the Blue Oak Woodlands and Savanna.  By 2022, Bobcat Ranch will also restore key areas by growing acorns then planting the young saplings in browse protection. 

Prescribed Burn at Bobcat Ranch 2020


Bobcat Ranch is a conservation property and working cattle ranch; however, since it is a large area, it has also been a common spot for wildfires. California wildfires are a part of ecology, but the extent of the fire is unknown each year. The fires can have “negative impacts on native vegetation, soils, and infrastructure.” Wildfires do have beneficial effects on the environment as well. This includes: making room for new life that will keep an area healthy, burns off aggressive vegetation that isn’t helpful to wildlife, removes plant debris, burns dead trees, and puts nutrients into the soil.

Intense fires can kill the Blue Oaks or lead to early mortality from wood decay fungus through fire scars.  Frequent fires can suppress oak regeneration and thin woodland groves into savannas.  Young oaks are especially susceptible to damage from fires due to their thin flammable bark.  Older trees are often resistant to topkill from low to moderate intensity fire, but can still be killed from more intense and sustained fires.  Although fire can be very damaging to Blue Oak Woodlands, prescribed and low intensity burns can be very beneficial.  Young Blue Oaks can resprout after topkill, and, depending on conditions, can resprout more quickly than Blue Oaks in an area without fire.  According to the USDA’s Fire Effects Information System, growth rates of blue oaks establishing within 1 year of fire were significantly greater than growth rates of blue oaks establishing at other times.  Prescribed fires can help facilitate faster growth and establishment of Blue Oaks, and control nonnative grasses and brush. 

Bobcat Ranch experienced fires each summer for 5 years from 2013 to 2018.  In 2014, the Monticello Fire burned through over half of the ranch’s land.  Due to the increase in the occurrence and intensity of the fires, Bobcat Ranch has a plan to manage wildfire risk.  By partnering with Calfire, the ranch was able to complete fire reduction, controlled burns, and grading (for fire breaks) along HWY 128, an area of historic ignitions.  The ranch’s management plan states that they will also do more prescribed burns in “areas with high concentration of non-natives vegetation species, and areas which have not burned for 10+ years”.  Further, the ranch will utilize livestock grazing to control fuel in areas that have previously been prone to ignitions, such as along the highway.  Ranch manager, Dash Weidhofer, also has taken measures to mitigate the impacts should fire reach the ranch again.  Weidhofer maintains defensible space around the ranch’s structures, and keeps a fire trailer and tractors ready to create fire breaks.


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