Despite concerns from some critics that plans to plant 3 million trees in the fire-scarred Station fire burn area could alter the ecological balance of the region, officials at an unveiling ceremony on Friday said time is of the essence.
The trees will go to an area of roughly 10,000-acres in the Angeles National Forest that was all but denuded by the massive Station fire. Below the burn area, foothill residents have been living in fear of mudflows and rockslides that threaten with every rain storm. With vegetation still on the rebound, there’s little to hold the earth in place on the area’s steep hillsides.
“I am all for whatever the Forest Service can do to help restore the watershed and keep mud and debris from flowing into our residents' homes and yards and on to our city streets,” La Cañada Flintridge City Councilwoman Laura Olhasso said.
Mudflows in 2010 destroyed homes, cars and clogged debris basins.
Officials from the U.S. Forest Service, Department of Agriculture and other agencies announced the massive replanting effort in conjunction with the National Forest Foundation during a press conference Friday in the Big Tujunga Canyon area. They said restoring trees in formerly wooded areas will benefit regional air and water quality, reinvigorate natural habitats and restore recreational use of forest land.
“Once these trees are growing, it’s going to restore the natural habitat and prevent the mudflows that have occurred because the trees and brush have been burned,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich said. “It helps by protecting homes from mudslides and [reducing the number of] trucks that have to go in and out of neighborhoods removing sediment.”
Antonovich sits on the board of the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which funded the purchase of 472,000 trees for 2,800 acres of forest land that over 100 years are expected to offset 280,000 metric tons of global warming carbon dioxide emissions.
Also underway is the planting of 300,000 conifers on 1,000 acres of mostly high-elevation hillsides vulnerable to soil erosion, said Vance Russell, California programs director for the National Forest Foundation.
Over the next several years, coordinated plantings by the Forest Service and nonprofit groups are expected to raise $3 million to cover an additional 7,000 acres and also aid in restoration of brush-dominant landscapes at lower elevations, Russell said.
Roughly 160,000 acres burned in the Station fire — 24,000 of which was wooded area, and half of that unable to recover without help, said Randy Moore, a regional forester for the Forest Service.
Tree species will include Douglass fir, ponderosa and Coulter pines at high elevations and native oaks near creeks and other low-lying areas.
Deputy U.S. Forest Service Supervisor Marty Dumpis acknowledged criticism by some biologists that human intervention and a heavy reliance on Coulter pines to replace some Douglass firs may throw off the ecological balance, but said it was necessary to plant available seedlings quickly.
“We know that this year’s mix is not 100% correct, but there wasn’t sufficient seed stock to grow the [fir] trees. But we know on average we have to replant areas two or three times before we get all the trees to take, and next year we’re getting more seedlings that are big-cone Douglass fir to restore the species mix,” he said.
The La Cañada Flintridge Merchants Assn. has helped organize volunteers for reforestation efforts along part of the Angeles Crest Highway through the nonprofit group Tree People. The group will be raising money for forest restoration during its community Easter celebration on April 23 at Memorial Park.
“It’s such a positive thing,” said association President Sue Stranger. “I think everybody here is receptive to it.”