Wrong trees planted in Angeles Forest burn zone

angeles+forest+no+trees.jpgAfter the Station Fire denuded vast areas of Angeles National Forest, the U.S. Forest Service made a crucial call to plant seedlings from species of fir and pine trees that nature had already decided didn't really fit with the larger plan for the San Gabriels. But the foresters were in a hurry, and there was a race to establish some trees before the chaparral took over. Well, guess what. Nature wins — again.

As Louis Sahagun reports in the Los Angeles Times, foresters estimate that just a quarter of the 900,000 seedlings planted last year are thriving. "On most slopes, instead of small trees, the ground nurtures dense shrubs and grass in the shadows of skeletal dead trees scorched by the 2009 blaze," he writes. Most of the seedlings were Coulter pines, which are found here and there in the Angeles forest, but the scientists now suspect they weren't indigenous.

The most ambitious recovery effort ever attempted in the Angeles National Forest began with a promise to plant up to 3 million seedlings over five years across 11,000 acres charred by the worst fire in Los Angeles County history. Although intense sun and wind-dried soil were the main reasons seedlings died, other unforeseen challenges are forcing the Forest Service to scale back its plans.

The agency now realizes that much of the terrain is too remote, rocky and steep for reforestation. "That was an unreasonably optimistic target based on a rapid assessment of the landscape," Bear said of the original plan....

Skeptics had expected problems because the plan conflicted with the natural state of Angeles National Forest.

"The reality we live in is a Mediterranean climate, and there is just not enough water to create what they have in mind," said Rick Halsey, founder and president of the California Chaparral Institute in San Diego. "I do not believe they will succeed because this is Southern California, not rain-drenched Oregon."

Ah, and it also turns out the reforestation effort is part of a carbon emissions trade credit program of the South Coast Air Quality Management District. Money for the trees came from Chevron "to mitigate carbon dioxide emissions resulting from expansion of its El Segundo refinery." Sahagun says the district's contract with the Forest Service requires planting enough trees over the next five years to remove 280,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere "over the life span of the trees" — and that if it doesn't work, carbon dioxide offsets will have to be found elsewhere.

LA Observed photos from the Angeles Forest burn area:


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