Volunteer effort to replant forest breaks ground

Members of the U.S. Forest Service and the Los Angeles-based nonprofit TreePeople announced Thursday the official start of “Forest Aid: Angeles — from ashes to action,” a four-year replanting effort of lands in the Angeles National Forest destroyed by the 2009 Station fire. Planting begins this weekend, weather permitting, and will run in four-hour shifts Wednesdays through Sundays until May 1.

The press conference, held at the Crescenta-Cañada Family YMCA, included a tree-planting demonstration to illustrate the duties volunteers will perform as they help reforest the foothills. Forest Aid is asking for help from the community in the form of volunteer hours (3,000 volunteers will be needed in 2011 alone) as well as funds to keep the project going.

TreePeople staff outlined the group’s plans to help the Forest Service repopulate as much as 11,000 acres of forestland throughout the next four years. This year, the Forest Service will plant more than 1.2 million seedlings over 4,200 acres. TreePeople is hoping local residents will pitch in and plant an additional 22,000 trees throughout a 75-acre area this planting season.

La Cañada Mayor Donald Voss and Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, who formerly served on the advisory committee of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, turned out to show their support for the partnership. Also in attendance were aides representing state Senator Carol Liu and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank).

“This is a massive undertaking you are beginning,” Voss said. “These efforts will be greatly appreciated by La Cañada and the foothill communities and everyone who enjoys the Angeles Forest and wants to see it restored.”

Andy Lipkis, who founded TreePeople in 1973 to help replenish forestland burnt in the San Bernardino National Forest, explained how the Angeles Forest supplies up to 35% of Los Angeles’s usable water and accounts for 75% of the county’s open space. To lose the forest as a resource would be devastating, he said. “Forever, these forests have been a part of our life support system in the LA area. Now, our forests need energy back. That energy is ours — it’s human energy, it’s volunteers.”

Forest Aid: Angeles also needs “financial energy,” Lipkis explained, calling for donors to keep the project afloat in the face of diminished funds from cash-strapped local and state government departments. TreePeople is confident that community members will respond with volunteerism and dollars, but is still asking for help given the enormous scope of the project.

As much as 23% of the 161,000 acres of forestland burnt in the 2009 Station fire were destroyed past replenishment, according to Lisa Northrup, a resources and planning officer for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service Department. The hope is that a total of about 11,000 acres can be returned to a forested condition throughout the next four years. Most of the planting will be done by experts who have knowledge of indigenous plant species, but TreePeople hopes to add a total of 250 acres of volunteer-planted forestland to that figure.

To that end, the nonprofit has trained 250 volunteer supervisors to lead residents’ replanting efforts. For local Boy Scout scoutmaster Dan Kellgreen of Sunland and his assistant scoutmaster, Beverly Naudet of Tujunga, training to be supervisors was a no-brainer. Both have helped restore trails along the foothills, which they refer to as “our backyard,” and were eager to be a part of Forest Aid: Angeles. They were both confident the community would answer the call for help and funding.

“We know enough people in the community who have been asking for a year now, since the fire started, ‘How can we help?’” Naudet said. “Get online and sign up. Get out there and taste it and feel it.”

“Just do it,” Kellgreen added, for anyone who might still be on the fence. “You won’t know until you do.”

For more information on the project, or how to become a volunteer or donor, visit forestaid.net or call (818) 623-4879.

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