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TreePeople and partners prepare for reforestation in fire-devastated national parks

Posted: September 17, 2009 8:34 p.m.
Updated: September 18, 2009 8:30 p.m.
LOS ANGELES -- The historic Angeles Forest Station Fire devastated more than 160,500 acres of forest lands, including the heart of Los Angeles' upper watershed and the headwaters of the Los Angeles River. TreePeople's California Wildfire Restoration Initiative, a private/public partnership, is already receiving requests from volunteers to replant the fire-damaged mountains, despite the dangers of civilians entering the mountains too soon after the fires.

"Once the fires stop burning, the next step is to hear from the U.S. Forest Service about their planting strategy and timeline," says TreePeople founder and president Andy Lipkis. "We're waiting for the Forest Service's soil scientists, ecologists, hydrologists and foresters to assess the damage and prescribe the appropriate restoration strategies consistent with fire ecology in mountain areas." TreePeople's work to organize and deploy volunteers in fire damaged mountains is best used after the land has cooled and has tried to heal itself.

Since the early 1970s TreePeople has been bringing volunteers to replant and care for forests in the Los Angeles region. In 2008, the nonprofit received a $1-million grant from the Boeing Company followed by a $1.5-million grant from The Walt Disney Company to launch the California Wildfire Restoration Initiative in response to the wildfires that ravaged areas of Los Angeles and other parts of Southern California in recent years.

The initiative immediately joined forces with Forest Aid, a partnership with the U.S. Forest Service and San Bernardino National Forest Association, in response to the 2007 and 2003 wildfires where 185,000 acres burned in the San Bernardino National Forest. These devastating fires were driven by years of long-term fire suppression, drought and the subsequent bark beetle infestation. Thanks to support from thousands of volunteers, and local partners, 20,050 seedlings were planted in the 2009 season from March to May.

Over the next five years, the California Wildfire Restoration Initiative will train and support at least 7,500 volunteers. These volunteers will restore more than 10,000 strategic acres, targeting forests and woodlands that experienced such intense fires they are unlikely to recover on their own -- including the damaged Angeles National Forest. The long-term goal of the initiative is to bring more volunteer support to all four national forests that surround the L.A region -- the San Bernardino National Forest, Angeles National Forest, Cleveland National Forest and Los Padres National Forest -- along with the Santa Monica Mountains.

The California Wildfire Restoration Initiative is built around public/private partnerships and provides innovative approaches to forest restoration. Priorities include developing strategic partnerships with local, state and federal agencies; the expansion of environmental education and fire safety programs for students and families; and engaging the community in on-the-ground restoration. TreePeople and the California Wildfire Restoration Initiative advocate planting the most appropriate species prescribed by the Forest Service. Their aim is to plant the right tree in the right place with the right spacing apart. However, sometimes the best approach to restore burned areas is to stay out of the area and let it heal naturally.

"Although fire is part of our ecosystem and essential to the health of the forest, extremely intense fires may damage soils and burn enough vegetation to compromise the forest's vital services," says Jim Summers, TreePeople's Director of Reforestation Initiative. "These services include providing a portion of Los Angeles' drinking water and protecting communities from flooding and mudslides." Although up to 15 percent of the city of Los Angeles' water comes from local sources such as the Angeles National Forest, other neighboring communities in the San Gabriel Valley rely on the forest watershed for most of their water.

TreePeople was founded in 1973 by teenagers and its staff and volunteers continue to plant trees and restore the pollution-damaged mountains of Southern California. TreePeople's mission is to inspire, engage and support people to take personal responsibility for the urban environment, making it safe, healthy, fun and sustainable and to share the results as a model for the world.


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