From fire damage to flourishing habitat: TreePeople kicks off $7 million mountain restoration effort

Fire has always been a natural part of California’s ecology. But in recent years, climate change and decreasing biodiversity have resulted in more frequent and larger wildfires in the Angeles National Forest and the adjacent wildland-urban interface. That’s why on May 16, 2024, TreePeople and California Botanic Garden (CalBG) kicked off a $7 million initiative to rehabilitate ecosystems in these fire-impacted areas—and to study how we can implement more effective restoration techniques across Southern California.

The project, which is generously funded by a grant from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE), will focus on oak, conifer, and chaparral restoration across multiple fire-scarred areas including the Copper, Powerhouse, Bobcat, Narrow, Creek, Route, and Lake fires.

“This partnership will restore degraded areas to a greatly improved biodiverse and resilient state–removing the invasive plant species that then dry out and become fuel for fires. It will also foster public stewardship by providing access to natural spaces and environmental education to Southern California residents,” says Thierry Rivard, TreePeople’s Director of Mountain Forestry.

The project will involve removing quick-burning invasive plants like this black mustard from more than 250 acres of forest land. Photo by Adam Thomas.

This groundbreaking project is expected to restore 1,070 acres of forest, by engaging volunteers to remove quick-burning invasives and help plant more than 54,000 native plants and trees. Acorns, seeds, and plant specimens will also be collected to be used for future restoration projects.

Situated near one of the world’s largest urban centers, the Angeles National Forest plays a crucial role in local air and water quality, and serves as a vital habitat connectivity corridor for the California Floristic Province–recognized as one of only 36 biodiversity hotspots globally and the sole hotspot in the western United States. The project area also encompasses habitat for several federally-listed threatened or endangered plant and animal species.

Over the next five years,12,000 volunteers will help plant 54,750 new native plants and trees in fire-damaged areas. Photo by Adam Thomas.

At Thursday’s kickoff event, approximately 50 volunteers joined staff from TreePeople at Castaic Lake to re-plant a slope with a variety of native shrubs and grasses. Over the course of the next 5 years, TreePeople and volunteers will be planting 16,000 plants in the surrounding area.

The project’s ultimate goal, says TreePeople’s Executive Director of Operations Daniel Berger, is to help restore the natural balance of our local ecosystem, make it more sustainable for plants, animals, and people as the climate crisis worsens.

“Fire is a part of our ecology here in SoCal but it shouldn’t be happening at the frequency or severity that we’ve been experiencing. This collaboration and the build-up of larger coalitions with local partners and funders will help accelerate the pace and scale of restoration and reforestation in our local wildlands to meet the challenges of the climate and wildfire crisis.”