Station Fire 2009 … but not without a controversy. The LA Times ran a story this morning about an effort that’s already been planned and in operation for some time now – the re-seeding of the Angeles National Forest, and is trying to stir up a bit of debate about the efforts while they’re at it.

In the article, the Times covers the Forest Service’s plan to plant 3 million trees in the Angeles National Forest over the next five years, in an effort to restore the landscape after the Station Fire – the worst fire in the forest’s recorded history. But due to seedling shortages, some of the burned areas will be replanted with Coulter pines instead of the Douglas firs that used to dominate in those areas … which has some people upset.

The article quotes representatives from the U.S. Geological Survey and the California Chaparral Institute, who are both highly critical of the decision to use Coulters which, while native to Southern California, were not found that prevalently in the San Gabriels. Forest officials counter that the project will be ongoing for 5 years, and they will be planting a more accurate pre-fire mix of trees in most of the burn area.

I’m no botanist (and I know some of you are, so feel free to help explain either side here), but the TreePeople have used Coulters in the San Bernardinos because of their successful growth rate in areas with steep slope and arid climates. We all know that forest is never going to be exactly the same way it was before the fire, but getting some roots in the ground has got to be a step in the right direction – if only to help prevent mudslides in the next rainy season.

Image by Carodean Road Designs. Thanks to reader Matt Hopp for the heads-up on the Times story!

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Casey Schreiner

Founder and Editor-in-Chief at Modern Hiker
Since founding Modern Hiker in 2006, Casey's writing has appeared in Backpacker, the REI Blog, Adventure Journal, and Sierra Trading Post's Social Hub. He was in Columbia Sportswear's inaugural #OmniTen program and was featured prominently in their documentary "I Am #OmniTen."

His stories for Modern Hiker have brought regional and national attention, and have been featured on Good Morning America, NPR, and the Associated Press.

Casey is also an award-winning television writer-producer, and was Series Producer of pivot's TakePart Live and Head Writer of G4's Attack of the Show.
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This post was written by Casey Schreiner on April 15, 2011

10 Comments

  • Inyo@ “There is no reason to believe that the chaparral won’t come back and if it doesn’t, it will be due to invasive species or due to disturbance by humans (for instance, this tree planting).”

    Much of the ground-level vegetation is making a good strong come-back, and if you look at the North Fork of the San Gabriel River, lots of new trees are growing in along the river in the aftermath of the bark beetle and the Curve Fire of 2002.

    But the trees on rarely-watered hillsides and mountain slopes will not recover within maybe half a Century without human intervention due to a number of reasons, the most pressing being the particulate counts of pollutants. We find that pine saplings grow for 3 years and then die if they germinate naturally. Pines planted and watered by humans have a much higher survival rate but even then airborne pollutants stunt and cause problems.

  • Inyo says:

    The part of the Angeles that burned has not been a pine-dominated ecosystem since the Ice Age, if then. many of the Bigcone douglas-fir have survived the fire because they are fire resistant when mature, at least to chaparral fires. When the overplanted coulter pines burn next time, where they are mixed with the douglas-fir, the doug fir is doomed.

    There is no reason to believe that the chaparral won’t come back and if it doesn’t, it will be due to invasive species or due to disturbance by humans (for instance, this tree planting).

    Chaparral is very good at holding up the mountains. There is no reason to believe Coulters will do better. Out of their natural habitat they will do worse… they will probably just die off.

    Plant the right thing or leave it alone.

  • Kevin says:

    Fredric is spot on. Forests aren’t just pretty things for hippies and critters.

  • It will not grow back naturally, not unless 22 millionpeople pack up and leave Southern California.

    The ecosystems are suppressed by human activity to the point where the desert chaparral humans moved to and irrigated and built cities around can not recover from major deforestation events like the Station Fire.

    Also it’s not a tree planting effort just for humans to look at and animals to have shelter and food, some 22 million Americans rely upon the watersheds within the San Gabriel Mountains for gigantic amounts of potable drinking water daily.

    Major deforestation and die-back events like the Station Fire threaten or water supply in that catchments fill up quickly and excess must be discarded or shipped elsewhere. Trees and brush affords water to percolate slowly in to catchments for distribution over longer periods of time.

    Replanting seeks to rebuild the watershed environment which will allow the mountains to hold and store water and release it for human use over months, otherwise rain water flows quickly down the mountain and won’t be available for human use except for during rainy seasions.

    My opinions only and only my opinions, as always.

  • Steve says:

    Are they only replanting due to risk of landslides? Of course health and safety should come first but if replanting is just to get the forest going for aesthetic reasons this seems wrong whether they were the correct type of seedlings or not.

    Let it grow back naturally. We might not be able to enjoy it the way we used to but that’s beauty of nature and the future generations might get to enjoy a healthier forest in the long run.

  • David says:

    Are Coulter pines native to the area? If so then there should be no problem. If they are no nativenthen you always have to worry about what the long term effects might be. You always here about someone introducing non native animals or fish to ecosystems and then 30 years later they’re destroying everything.

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  • That is rather curious since there has been and continues to be an extensive effort to remove non-native plants.

  • ADKinLA says:

    Kevin and MH, I agree. We have to make the best efforts we can with what we have and if helping the burned out forest means Coulters, so be it. Nature is always evolving and changing so while there Douglas’ there at one point, they may not have been before, so which time period are we choosing is the correct one? Replant and settle down is what I say to those who oppose the replanting.

  • Kevin says:

    Hah! People who think we can just put things back the way they were are misguided. We’ve already altered nearly every bit of biomass on the planet in some way or another. The NFS will do the best they can, and getting the planting started ASAP sounds like a good thing even if it starts with these different trees.

    Also, people who try to roadblock honest efforts at restoration by insisting on x-ideal methods/materials don’t understand the difficulties of an operation this size and the fact that waiting 1-2+ years to even start planting the Doug Firs will have significant effects on erosion, soil quality, weedy possibly non-native undergrowth impeding future planting efforts etc. Replanting a forest isn’t a slam dunk. Success and timeliness trumps pie-in-the-sky idealism when it comes to gittin’ ‘er done IMHO

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