Federal, state, and local officials are touting a plan to plant 10,000 acres of trees in the Angeles National Forest in an attempt to nudge it back to life after the devastating Station Fire of 2009 and the planting is slated to begin this spring.
At a press conference held at the Wildwood Picnic Area in the Angeles Forest above Tujunga Friday, National Forest Foundation (NFF) president William Possiel rolled out the plan with U.S. Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell and Harris Sherman, under secretary in the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Reforestation of the Angeles with conifers is the focus for the first year of the 5-year project, and Possiel said that the NFF is also focused on restoring chaparral and riparian environments to stabilize the waterways and ensure that “fresh, clear water arrives in Los Angeles.”
“Removal of invasive species is critically, critically important,” he added.
Concerns about what type of conifers will be planted and about whether mass planting is appropriate at all have been raised by some in Southern California. Some have also argued that conifer plants that once grew in the forest may no longer be able to survive without human assistance.
Responding to those concerns, Patch asked Lisa Northrop, resources and planning officer for the Forest Service, about the types of conifers that will be planted in the first phase and if they were appropriate to the forest, especially Coulter pine.
Northop pointed out that conifers will not be the only thing to be planted; other species native to the area will be planted as well.
“Only 10,000 acres are being reforested with coniferous trees,” she said. “The rest is chaparral and riparian. There were 161,000 acres burned in fires. In the Station Fire, several different vegetation types burned, including the big cone Douglas fir.”
Northrop said the focus is on trying to put back native trees in the right places at the correct density. The area above the headwaters of Big Tujunga Creek will be planted with a “suite” of trees. The mix includes big cone Douglas fir, Coulter, Jeffrey, and Ponderosa pines, and incense cedar.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, Jack Sahl, Southern California Edison director of Environment & Resource Sustainability Operations Support, and John Hendricks, founder of Discovery Communications and chair of the NFF board, also spoke against the backdrop of Big Tujunga Creek. The speakers can be seen in the accompanying video.
Following the speeches, there was a ceremonial tree removal and replanting. A tobacco plant on the bank of the Big Tujunga Creek was dug up and two native Coastal Live Oak seedlings were planted on higher ground.
Northop said the Forest Service is using historic mapping done in the 1920s as a baseline with the overlays that have occurred since then to match what was in the Angeles before the Station Fire as a way to ensure that native plants are in the right area.
For example, Coulter pine shows on the 1920s’ map, according to Northrop, and have been described in accounts going back to the 1880s.
“It’s tough to get it perfect the first year,” Northrop said. “We’ve outstripped the seed bank. We are focusing on the trees we had and will adjust over the five years of the project to achieve the right mix.”
Nancy Steele, executive director of the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers Watershed Council, said planting conifers could be "risky."
“Personally, I think it’s a risk to be planting trees in an area they have been before and assume they’re going to grow. I think a lot of things have changed."
"I’m not a climatology researcher, but from what I’ve read, if we did nothing, with the change [in rainfall and warming], the forest would probably convert to more chaparral," she added. "There’s a question in my mind if the pines will survive.”
Steele nodded when asked if she thought there should be a wait and see approach.
“On the other hand—there’s always an other hand—I think the Angeles having a relationship with the National Forest Foundation, I think that’s great. I think it’s positive. Maybe be need our own Angeles Forest Foundation, like the Yellowstone Foundation.”
The South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) has assigned $1.5 million in mitigation fees from a Chevron plant built in El Segundo to the Angeles restoration project.
“The trees are going to be sequestering carbon dioxide for the next hundred years,” said Sam Atwood, media relations manager at the SCAQMD.
Sequestering is the process of removing carbon from the atmosphere and depositing it in a reservoir. Atwood said this will not make a huge difference in the overall problem, but “It will make a difference in the Los Angeles area.”
Antonovich, who as a member of the SCAQMD was active in assigning the Chevron mitigation fees to this project, has no qualms about any part of the proposal.
“This is the first step forward in recovering from the devastation of the Station Fire," he said.