Tree-planting effort kicks off

Press Enterprise, November 17, 2008

Tree-planting effort kicks off

By Imran Ghori

It took only a matter of days for hundreds of thousands of trees to burn down in the San Bernardino National Forest in fires last year and in 2003.

It's going to take a lot longer to reforest those areas left bare, but the U.S. Forest Service is working with conservation groups to try to restore the San Bernardino Mountains' natural canopy.

One of those efforts kicked off Monday with the planting of 12 pine tree seedlings at a campground in Green Valley Lake, left partially scorched from last year's Slide Fire, which burned nearly 13,000 acres in Running Springs and Green Valley Lake.

The National Forest Foundation, a nonprofit partner of the Forest Service, plans to plant at least 100,000 trees in the burn area over two years, starting next spring. Intelligent Global Pooling Systems, an Orlando, Fla., company that makes plastic pallets, will fund the effort, which costs about $2 to $5 per seedling.

Another group plans to put out the call today for volunteers to help replant areas near Lake Arrowhead, where about 185,000 acres were burned in the Old Fire of 2003 and last year's Grass Valley Fire.

TreePeople, a Los Angeles-based group that has planted 2 million trees during its 35 years, is hoping to attract 4,000 people to plant 40,000 seedlings, said Laurie Kaufman, spokeswoman for the group.

"We need every day, every minute filled with volunteers and volunteer groups," she said.

Most of the replanting will take place next spring, when the ground is still moist from the winter and runoff from the snowpack will help provide the moisture for trees to grow, said Mary Beth Najera, a forest resource officer with the U.S. Forest Service.

All the seedlings come from pine cones and seeds collected from the forest and are native to the area, she said. They're kept refrigerated at a seed bank in Placerville, near Sacramento, and will be shipped in refrigerated containers before they are planted, Najera said.

The replanting will be focused on areas the Forest Service describes as "moonscaped," where fires have scorched the earth so badly that trees cannot grow back naturally.

"We're helping nature get the pine trees where the seed source has been obliterated by the fires," Najera said.

Without their efforts, it would take hundreds of years for trees to grow back, she said. Instead, invasive brush starts to grow in those areas, creating more of a fire risk.

The replanting effort is happening at the same time the Forest Service is thinning trees in areas where they are overcrowded. But the new trees will be planted so they are spaced out and do not create the same problems, Najera said.

The Forest Service and conservation groups say replanting trees is necessary for a healthy forest, restoring the natural ecosystem for wildlife and waterways while improving air quality.

"It's going to make a difference not only for the citizens nearby but the millions of citizens who experience the San Bernardino National Forest," said Jeanne Wade Evans, forest supervisor for the San Bernardino National Forest.