April 16, 2011

Officials Hope To Restore Angeles National Forest

Officials in Los Angeles County have launched an effort to restore tens of thousands of acres of severely charred wooded areas in the Angeles National Forest, an area that had the largest fire in that county's history after an arsonist set it ablaze two years ago.

The National Forest Foundation (NFF) and local and federal agency officials Friday announced a five-year plan to replant 3 million trees on 10,000 acres, remove invasive plants and restore the habitat on 40,000 more acres in the Big Tujunga Canyon watershed. The NFF said it plans to raise $5 million to aid it in its efforts.

Officials associated with the plan stressed the importance of preserving the forestland, mainly because of its location next to an urban environment like Los Angeles.

"In short, these lands are America's expanded backyard and nowhere is that more true than the Los Angeles area," John Hendricks, chairman of the Forest Foundation, told The Associated Press (AP).

The 2009 Station Fire -- named for the ranger station near the point of ignition -- burned about 161,000 acres in all, destroyed 89 homes and killed two firefighters. About 14,000 acres of the forest were scorched to the point of deforested conditions, and it is in this area that the NFF is concentrating their efforts.

Angeles National Forest was set aside as a reserve in 1892. Tom Tidwell, chief of the US Forest Service, said preserving that land is critical. "There are more stresses on these lands than there ever has been."

Officials are hoping to plant a variety of fir and pine trees on an estimated 4,200 acres this year. They have already planted a half million trees. Tree seeds were collected from other areas of the forest at elevations that correspond to the destroyed areas. The seeds were sent to a nursery where they grew to sapling-size before being moved back to the forest.

Without the restoration effort, invasive plants would crowd out all the native plants in some parts of the forest, said Marty Dumpis, deputy supervisor of Angeles National Forest. And while the effort will help restore areas where traces of burned trees and charred debris are still visible, he admitted it may never be what it was before.

"We realize we're never going to be able to 100 percent mimic what used to be out there 200 or 300 years ago," Dumpis told AP.

Critics of the efforts said officials should make sure to plant only the types of trees that belong in the burned areas. They said it appeared that officials were planting a type of tree that could potentially alter the balance of the ecosystem.

Jon Keeley, research scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey Western Ecological Research Center, said: "What I've been told is that they're planting Coulter pines in areas that used to have big cone Douglas fir and they're doing it because that's what they have available."

"They have a lot of them, they're cheap and they grow fast," he added.

The concern is that the big cone Douglas Fir is not found everywhere and has lost a lot of its former range, said Keeley. "What they're doing is contrary to good ecosystem management, in my mind."

But Vance Russell, California Director of the National Forest Foundation, said the officials are not planting anything that is not native. They are a "little overblown," he told AP.

The Station Fire of 2009 was set on August 26, 2009 and was not contained until October 16, 2009. Subsequent rainstorms unleashed debris flows from denuded slopes that damaged or destroyed dozens of homes and forced repeated evacuations.


On the Net: