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After burn: wildfire has destroyed forests across the West. Help is needed to restore the life-giving "natural capital" they provide.

Wildfires are changing the landscape across the country and often not for the better. A long-standing policy of putting out all forest fires resulted in woods that were full of "fuel"--leaf litter and downed limbs and trees that allow fires to burn hotter and slower than they ordinarily would. The result is burned homes, barren acres, infusions of bugs, and erosion. Trees are desparately needed to begin the healing process, and begin to restore cleaner water, homes for animals, and opportunities for recreation.


AMERICAN FORESTS created its Wildfire ReLeaf program in 2000 to help heal burned lands that might otherwise wait years for planting, allowing an invasion of nonnative species. Within the last three years alone, AMERICAN FORESTS' Wildfire ReLeaf has funded projects in California, Colorado, Florida, New Mexico, Idaho and Montana. You can help us plant trees on these sites in 2005:


For Julian, California, July 29, 2002, brought a scenario seen all too often of late in California and other states. A wildfire--this one set accidentally when a drug-patrolling helicopter clipped a power line--covered nearly 100 square miles and threatened hundreds of homes. It took 25 days to contain.

One casualty from what came to be known as the Pines Fire just north of town was a majority of the San Felipe Valley Wildlife Area, property owned by the state and jointly managed by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF) and the Department of Fish and Game.

Included in the northern part of that burn was a wildlife area known as Volcan Mountain. Open to the public, Volcan Mountain is envisioned as a place where the public will be able to learn about all aspects of forest management, says Thom Porter, a unit forester for CDF. Eventually CDF wants the forest there to reflect various stages of development while allowing the resident wildlife to thrive--deer in the summer and Mexican spotted owls, raptors, and other large birds of prey. Potentially there are sites for red- or yellow-legged frogs and other amphibians.


Volcan Mountain burned so intensely, Porter says, because it had "little islands of forest in a sea of chaparral" adding that it had been 95 years or more since the chaparral last burned.

"Those extreme circumstances made it impossible to manage the fire and keep it out of the timber," Porter says. "Combined with a build-up within the timber stand, it made the fire especially devastating."

Over two years, CDF and AMERICAN FORESTS plan to plant 30,000 Jeffrey pine and incense-cedar over 600 acres on Volcan Mountain.

Volcan Mountain's scene of loss has been repeated across California--and in other states throughout the country. Areas that lose their trees due to wildfire are more susceptible to erosion and the loss of important nutrients. Wildlife from eagles to elk to bear lose nesting habitat and sources of food. And urban dwellers lose valuable places where they can connect with nature.

That was the case at Forest Lawn Scout Reservation near Lake Arrowhead, a popular destination for Boy and Girl Scouts in the Los Angeles area. The Los Angeles Area Council serves more than 50,000 boys and girls and reflects the area's great diversity: 52 percent of the scouts are Latino, 21 percent African-American, and 10 percent Asian-Pacific Islander.

Each year the Council encourages its Scouts to attend summer camp at Forest Lawn. There kids can hike, horseback ride and canoe; for many city kids it may be their first wilderness experience. Started in 1949, Forest Lawn is a "pristine 2000-acre wilderness camp with rolling hills and tall pine trees and a lake," says Brian Curtis, director of support services for the Council. During their week at camp Scouts learn skills that reinforce self-confidence and improve teamwork. They also make memories that last throughout their lives.


But in October 2003 devastating wildfires swept through the Arrowhead/Cedar Glen area. The "Old Fire" burned more than 2,000 acres, leaving behind $3.6 million in damage. Forest Lawn lost 40 buildings and had to completely shut down two sections of its Scout camp. Included in the loss: all the buildings that housed scouts for winter camp as well as the entire Cub Scout camping area. The maintenance area and buildings also burned.

Curtis says they lost hundreds of acres of trees, which hosted "various birds, deer, an occasional black bear, and small game."

Partnering with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, AMERICAN FORESTS will plant more than 10,000 seedlings at the fire site to help recovery efforts.

Wildfires that swept California in 2003 also wreaked havoc on the San Bernardino Mountains, where approximately 12 million trees weakened by six years of drought are now dead or dying from the resulting stress and an epidemic of bark beetles. The October wildfires left some areas with close to 100 percent of their trees dead. Approximately 500 homes were destroyed on the mountain, with many others destroyed in the San Bernardino Valley.

"In some areas, drought and beetle-killed trees were consumed by the fire along with green trees, leaving standing skeletons," says CDF unit forester Glenn Barley. "The fires made a bad situation worse--and created a new issue--bare slopes exposed to significant erosion, removing valuable topsoil from the slopes."


Heavy rains in December 2002 and again in January and February of this year caused severe erosion. Damage from the beetle kill and the fires varies from site to site. In some areas, Barley says, the beetle kill has caused a conversion from a mixed conifer forest to one dominated by hardwoods, most notably oaks. In other areas, cedar now dominates; in still others, pine and fir have suffered.

The number of trees dying is expected to increase as the bark beetle infestation spreads, increasing the possibility of more devastating wildfires. More than 1.3 million trees are thought to be needed to restore the San Bernardino Mountains' forests.

The Mountain Communities Wildfire ReLeaf project is expected to last from five to 10 years.

AMERICAN FORESTS is working in partnership with CDF and the Mojave Resource Conservation District. Native seedlings of coulter pine, white fir, and bigcone Douglas-fir are being handed out to private landowners who have lost trees either from the 2003 wildfires or bark beetle infestation. Plantings will also take place on federal and on some state land.


The Nez Perce Tribe owns 770,000 acres in north-central Idaho, continuing to live by the words of Chief Joseph: The earth and myself are of one mind. The Tribe takes pride in its efforts to employ environmentally responsible management practices on its more than 55,000 acres of commercial forestland. But in the summer of 2003 what came to be known as the Mile Post 59 Fire consumed more than 8,000 acres of forest habitat. When it was over, more than half the trees in the forest were dead.


The Nez Perce Woods is within the watershed for Clearwater National Forest and borders the Clearwater River, which several communities depend on for water. The trees lost to wildfire were a critical part of that ecosystem, providing a cleaner Clearwater River as their roots trapped sediment and kept it from the river.

The area is also recognized for its part in history as the main corridor traveled by Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery and for its role in sheltering populations of deer, elk, cougar, and bear, as well as many birds of prey.

Reforesting will both help save the landscape and maintain the pristine quality of this scenic river. AMERICAN FORESTS is partnering with the Nez Perce Tribe to plant 137,000 ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir seedlings over 450 acres.


Nearby, Clearwater National Forest is also suffering from the effects of the Mile Post 59 fire. This year AMERICAN FORESTS plans to plant 11,000 whitebark and lodgepole pines throughout a 35-acre area.

White pine blister rust is killing off whitebark pines throughout the Intermountain West; the majestic trees are further threatened by mountain pine beetles. Whitebark pine provides an important food source for grizzlies, Clark's nutcracker, and red squirrels (See "Stalwart Species," American Forests, Summer 2002.)

And whitebark pine is instrumental in the protection of watersheds--the majestic, ancient-looking tree tolerates harsh, windswept sites that would kill other conifers, its shade regulates snowmelt runoff and soil erosion, and its roots stabilize rocky and poorly developed soil. The U.S. Forest Service is a partner in the Clearwater National Forest project.


One of the largest fires in Colorado's history, the 2002 Hayman Fire burned all but a few hundred of the 8,000 acres surrounding the Cheesman Reservoir, a primary watershed for the Denver area. The fire burned up majestic pines and firs and damaged forest and watershed cover, which affects water quality and storage capacity for the reservoir.

Winter roost sites used by between 20 and 40 bald eagles were damaged; in all, 40 animal and plant species in the immediate area saw their habitat damaged or destroyed by the fire.


AMERICAN FORESTS' goal is to plant trees to rehabilitate the area around Cheesman Reservoir. Doing so would restore both the original beauty of the reservoir and the life-giving properties of its trees. Extensive rehabilitation efforts are underway; a 10-year tree planting effort began in 2003 with the goal of planting at least 25,000 trees annually. In 2005, ponderosa pine and Rocky Mountain juniper will be planted on about 215 acres along Sand Draw.

Another city watershed--this one for Greeley, Colorado--lost nearly 100 percent of its trees in the Picnic Rock fire of 2004. This fire, the second largest in Larimer County history, started from a burning pile of brush gone awry. The fire, which blazed for nine days, destroyed close to 9,000 acres of public and private land and cost $2.1 million before it was finally extinguished.

Working with its partners, Anheuser-Busch and the Colorado State Forest Service, AMERICAN FORESTS will plant 25,000 seedlings at the fire site. Employees of Anheuser-Busch's Fort Collins Brewery will take part in the tree planting. The goal: to restore the land and reestablish protection for the local watershed.

A little northwest of Greeley lies Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest, straddling the border between Wyoming and Colorado. AMERICAN FORESTS will plant 90,000 lodgepole pine seedlings there to offset the effects of a July 2003 wildfire that burned more than 700 acres.

The fire burned in the crowns of trees, decimating most of the cones there. The site was not totally devastated, which means that some seeds, mostly spruce and fir, remain on the ground. But the trees' seed-bearing cones were destroyed when the fire roared through the canopy. Natural regeneration is expected to be slow and erratic because of the fire's severity and intensity. Hand planting many of the severely burned areas will reestablish the tree canopy.

Lodgepole pine was the tree of choice because it will help stabilize the erosive granite-like soils, provide habitat for various wildlife species, and restore the national forests' aesthetic appeal.

AMERICAN FORESTS will plant a total of 650,000 trees in Global ReLeaf Forest sites across the U.S. in 2005. You can contribute to Wildfire ReLeaf or Global ReLeaf in general, or to a specific project, by clicking on our website at or by calling 800/545-8733 (TREE).

Ethan Kearns works in AMERICAN FORESTS' Global ReLeaf and Big Tree programs.
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Author:Kearns, Ethan
Publication:American Forests
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2005
Previous Article:Washington outlook.
Next Article:Other 2005 wildfire releaf projects.

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