Four and a half years ago (in August 2013) the Rim Fire burned 402 square miles of the central Sierra Nevada, mostly in Stanislaus National Forest and Yosemite National Park. In recent years much effort has gone into planting trees to help restore the forest habitats and soils, protect the watershed, improve recreation opportunities, and in some of the National Forest area, to establish future harvestable timber stands.
Some of this restoration work is assisted by volunteers eager to help heal lands ravaged by megafires. In mid-March, I joined one such group of enthusiastic volunteers to plant Ponderosa pines on a severely burned hill just north of Buck Meadows Lodge, about 11 miles east of Groveland on State Route 120. The party included members of the Friends of Berkeley Tuolumne Camp (my affiliation), an Americorps crew, members of the Berkeley Rotary Club, Boy Scouts, staff and volunteers from the Tuolumne River Trust, and others, all with supervision by Stanislaus National Forest — a large and diverse group!
We convened at Rush Creek Lodge, carpooled to Buck Meadows Lodge, hiked nearly a mile up the hill, received our instructions, broke up into groups of about five, gathered our tools and seedlings (grown at the USDA Forest Service nursery near Placerville), and scattered far and wide in search of suitable planting sites.
Soils along the crest of this hill were in a poor state to receive plantings after the fire, so some of it had been “tilled” or “ripped” to loosen the soil for better aeration and water infiltration. Some of this area had been planted two years ago, but seedling survival was below target, so we were filling in where some of those plants had perished and also planting beyond the extent of the previous work.
Conditions the day we planted were ideal for both plants and people: cool and overcast, with the ground moist but not muddy.
Scalp the ground clear of weeds, dig a little hole, insert the tree, gently back-fill, and move on to the next site. It was harder work than you might think, because of the very rocky soil here.
Our group planted about 25 trees; altogether, everyone planted more than 2,200 trees that day.
Next year our pines should look like this one, planted last year. The other shrubby green stuff in the background is “Golden Fleece” (Ericameria arborescens), a native bushy sunflower that has established itself naturally over the last few years.
After a hard day’s work: some beer, some conversation, and a brief but colorful sunset near the pool back at Rush Creek Lodge: