By Jackie HOUCHIN
On April 15, governmental, environmental and corporate leaders, along with a large media crowd, gathered at the previously burned-out Wildwood Picnic Area in the Angeles National Forest east of Tujunga to celebrate a unique multi-agency partnership which is working to restore the area to its pre-fire vitality.
National Forest Foundation spokesperson Bill Possiel welcomed the crowd and introduced the partners – the National Forest Foundation (NFF), South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD), Southern California Edison Corporation (SCE), and the US Forest Service.
NFF Chairman John Hendricks talked about the importance of open space, wildlife habitat, and recreational opportunities, calling the Forest, “L.A.’s Expanded Backyard.”
U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Under Secretary for National Resources and Environment Harris Sherman, who had just arrived from Washington DC, admired the warm California sunshine and reminded the attendees of the critical water and air quality resources the Angeles National Forest provides (33% of L.A’s drinking water and 280,000 metric tons of carbon emissions offset).
Tom Tidwell, chief of the US Forest Service, talked about the 32,000 thousand acres of forested land that were decimated in the Station Fire and how 11,000 of those acres require manual reforestation because the fire was so intense it destroyed all seeds.
L.A. County Supervisor and South Coast Air Quality Management District Director Michael D. Antonovich stated that the AQMD was pleased to participate in “this vital tree-planting project to improve air quality and speed recovery of our local forest.” Funding for the project comes from Chevron which contributed $1.5 million to the AQMD to mitigate carbon dioxide emissions resulting from an expansion of its El Segundo Refinery.
Following the speeches, the attendees were directed to a streamside site where the U.S. Forest Service staff conducted a ceremonial weed removal. Battling invasive non-native weeds is also a part of the reforestation project.
Next, the dignitaries, led by acting forest supervisor Marty Dumpis, participated in the ceremonial tree-planting of two healthy Live Oak saplings, trees that are indigenous to the drier climate and lower elevation of the picnic area. The newly-planted trees stood, tender and green, next to the twisted and blackened trunks of the giants they were replacing.
The Station Fire in 2009 burned for two months and was the largest fire in the history of Los Angeles County raging through 161,000 acres of Angeles National Forest – burning more than 25% of its land base. This loss of vegetation resulted in massive mudslides and flooding in the communities downstream that winter and the next.
In 2010 the National Forest Foundation and the US Forest Service began growing native seeds (Ponderosa, Jeffrey, and Coulter pines along with Douglas fir) to produce 473,000 seedlings. Early this year, while snow was still on the ground at the higher elevations, the planting began. With warmer, drier weather coming, there remains only a two to three week window to complete the initial planting.
It will be 100 years before the forest is fully restored, but a start has been made.