Coastal southern California shrublands are adapted to a fire regime of infrequent, intense, stand-replacing crown fires that usually occur in the fall. These fires are often sensationalized in the press and reported to have "destroyed" thousands of acres of wildlands. However, native shrublands are resilient to infrequent fires and have numerous traits that allow them to recover quickly. The first spring following a fire there is dramatic vegetation recovery on barren, blackened hillsides from resprouting shrubs and herbaceous perennials, germinating shrub seedlings, and an abundance of colorful native annuals. Within about 10 years at coastal sites and 20 years at inland sites, the canopy of the dominant shrubs begins to close and short lived fire-following annuals and perennials disappear and are present only in the soil seed bank.
While chaparral is a fire adapted vegetation type, it is not useful to think of it as a fire-dependent ecosystem. This term implies a management need to provide fire that is lacking in an ecosystem. While a few chaparral species depend on fire to reproduce, such as the non-sprouting shrub species like bigpod ceanothus (Ceanothus megacarpus) and big-berry manzanita (Arctostaphylos glauca), most chaparral species in the Santa Monica Mountains are obligate sprouters and actually recruit in the fire-free intervals between fire. The current fire return interval of 28 years is far shorter than the estimated natural fire return interval of approximately 70-100 years. The ecological perturbations related to fire in the SMM's are not from an insufficient amount of fire required in a fire-dependent ecosystem, but from fire occurring at such a high frequency that it can exceed the ability of the ecosystem to recover normally.