Ready, set, grow

Thanks to the help of four Glendale volunteers, a group of seedlings in the Verdugo Mountains have a better chance to survive.

Part-time naturalist Dave Moreno and three Glendale residents carried 5-gallon water bottles up and down a mountain for nearly three hours Saturday morning as a part of a program to maintain the trees that were planted after a fire in 2005.

The bimonthly tree maintenance, spearheaded by Moreno, has been happening for three years now. But the project, he says, is an extension of a more than 50-year-old experiment to introduce nonnative but noninvasive tree species to these mountains.

The Los Angeles County Fire Department and U.S. Forest Service teamed up in the late 1940s to plant what is still known today as the experimental forest — two groves of pine trees that took root and thrived despite being given only about 12 gallons of water when they were first planted, Moreno said.

One of these groves was torched five years ago after a fire that a cigarette butt reportedly caused.

Beginning in 2008, Moreno took groups of volunteers up to what is now referred to as plantation lateral, or Fire Warden's Grove, to plant the saplings. The trees are now around a foot high.

Moreno met the volunteers in the Crescenta Valley where La Tuna Canyon Road crosses the Foothill (210) Freeway. After driving almost five miles to the top of the mountain, located between Verdugo Peak and Tongva Peak, the volunteers set up a base camp and began watering the trees and weeding the surrounding area of plants hindering the survival of the saplings.

Volunteers helped water each sapling with half of a 5-gallon bottle and worked within a quarter-mile radius of the camp.

The saplings are surrounded by plastic mesh tubes that were placed to protect the trees from grazing deer. The young trees, which need three seasons to become established, have a 50% mortality rate, Moreno said.

Moreno's favorite sapling, which he has named "Oliver," is near the parking area. It is often watered by hikers and bikers and easily the healthiest tree out of the group.

A new crop of saplings will be planted in the area in late September at the start of the planting season, beginning a new three-year cycle.

If all goes as planned, the mountainous lookout at the top of the Hostetter Fire Road — a popular hiking and mountain biking trail accessed from Tujunga — will eventually be heavily populated by mature pines and a shady destination for hikers.

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