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Ferns growing through ash. Some of the first plants to come back after the fire. Photo: Taylor Bright says Elson. “As soon as they were safe, they started working to protect their watershed and helping their neighbors to do the same. It ’s an incredible opportunity for people to come together and take care of each other and the ecosystem.”

In November of 2020, CoRenewal set up five study areas with mycofiltration projects in recent burn scars in Santa Cruz, Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino, and Butte counties. With five women taking the lead as site coordinators in the different counties, volunteers and fire survivors collected baseline soil samples from 29 different test sites, dug trenches and deployed straw wattles inoculated with oyster mushroom mycelium. Volunteers were encouraged to wear proper protective gear, such as respirators, to keep them safe on the study sites. CoRenewal was fortunate to receive generous donations of mushroom spawn from Mazu Mushrooms, Mycopia, and Far West Fungi.

In addition to the study sites, CoRenewal was also part of a larger community effort known as the Post-Fire Watershed Defense Coalition. The coalition organized several Fire Remediation Action Days at additional CZU Complex Fire burn sites that utilized a variety of bioremediation options, including composted mulch socks donated by FILTREXX to act as microbial filters and erosion control, straw wattles inoculated with phoenix oyster mushroom, and the spraying of high quality compost tea donated by Catalyst Bioamendments on both compost wattles and regular straw wattles.

“This mycoremediation research is just one tool in a large, multifaceted tool box”, explained Taylor Bright, a member of CoRenewal and the site leader for the Sonoma and Napa County study areas. “We need to focus on working with a diverse array of biological allies to not just remediate, but to facilitate true regeneration.” To Bright, there is much to be learned from observing Nature and listening to the land. “‘I’ve been noticing the patterns and life forms that are naturally emerging from the fires and how they are responding,” shares Bright. “You really see the regeneration of the fire-resistant trees and grasses. Ferns were some of the first plants that came back. Right now, Pyrophillis fungi, a tiny orange cup fungi, is just blanketing the ground.”

While CoRenewal’s initial biofiltration project focuses on testing the efficacy of mycofiltration on the toxic runoff, Elson hopes to expand the initiative to work with bacteria and plants in the coming years. “Nobody knows what the best method is and that is what we are trying to figure out. We need to prepare for the next fire season, develop new tools for future fires, and expand our study to include new sites that are looking not just at post-fire biofiltration, but also at post-fire ecological regeneration, and introducing native microbes as part of that process.”

CoRenewals Post-Fire Biofiltration Initiative will be one of the first studies to examine the effectiveness of mycofiltration in a post-fire landscape, applying solutions in real-time disaster response while also using a scientific approach. The team has collected baseline data, established controls, and will do four rounds of sampling to determine the effectiveness of the biofiltration installations. CoRenewal expects to have their findings ready by early 2022. To learn more about Butte Remediation, check out: To learn more about how you can support CoRenewal’s wildfire remediation work, check out:

Leila Darwish is the author of Earth Repair: A Grassroots Guide to Healing Toxic and Damaged Landscapes (New Society Publishers, 2013). An audio book version of Earth Repair will be released in 2021. She is a community organizer, bioremediation educator, and disaster recovery worker with a deep commitment to providing accessible and transformative tools for communities dealing with the toxic contamination of their lands and waters.

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