10/Mar/07, Watershed Restoration Tree Planting Day!
March 10'th (Saturday) was a Watershed Restoration effort in the San Gabriel River Ranger District within the Angeles National Forest. It was a good day for it, too, since Summer has returned to Southern California already, several months ahead of schedule.
For me it began with trying to decide whether my old canvas backpack would hold up long enough for one more trek into the forest and back. My backpack had been shredded by a bear about a year and a half ago when I had parked about 200 feet from a bunch of Boy Scouts up at the Crystal Lake Recreation Area, and since then -- despite having taken needle and thread to it -- the old backpack continues to disintegrate.
I believe that the Forest Service organized and coordinated today's effort, with Karen and several other forest people meeting up with what looked like anywhere from 50 to around 80 volunteers (see photographs) up at the Environmental Education Center across the street from the Rincon Fire Station.
I usually walk and ride my bicycle up into the canyons in the dead cool of the night however today I'd gotten tripped up a bit and found myself hiking past the Environmental Education Center around nine in the morning, pushing my heavily-loaded bicycle up hill past everyone else who were still mustered at the Center.
By the time I had made it to the 3000 foot marker along Highway 39 on the way up, a line of about 40 cars and one huge school bus passed me, a single horn blipped at me from one of the Forest Service vehicles as the caravan went past.
Up at the Valley of the Moon about 200 feet higher, the crew of volunteers and Forest Service people went through what looked to me to be a safety orientation meeting -- I couldn't tell exactly what was covered since I was still sweating my way up the road, trying to avoid a heart attack. By the time I got there the meeting was over and everyone had parked and were walking down to Coldbrook Campground.
The big flatbed Forest truck containing all of the saplings (Pine trees!) stopped along side camp site number four and the tailgate dropped while Karen and the Service crews got ready for the volunteers. Digging tools were made available, final instructions offered, and then the saplings started being handed down off of the truck.
I got a lot of photographs, talked with some of the California Conservation Corps people who had come (representing three different Centers, as I recall) and I handed out some cards with this web site's address on it, making sure I had everyone's permission to take their photographs.
As you might see from the photographs, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, the CCC, and other groups were present, and there were enough volunteers and enough tools to get all of the young plants placed around Coldbrook Campgrounds within about 4 or maybe 5 hours. Buckets were provided (apparently by the USFS) so that water could be pulled from the stream and each of the plants could be given one last drink before being abandoned to live or die.
These plantings are controversial, I should note, since a great many of the saplings die for lack of water. Many of the saplings continue to live, however, since they get planted in places where pine trees like to grow. Because of the beetle infestation and the fires that have gone through the region, a great many trees have died and statistically newly planted trees such as these have a better chance of surviving to grow into adulthood now than in years past where competition and disease is less.
Since I had hiked up with a recently acquired -- but used -- tent (the same bear that got my backpack also trashed my old tent) and since I had my sleeping bag with me, I set up my tent and did some reading, safe from the blood-sucking insects battering against my tent's netting. From time to time I would emerge to take more photographs to see how the hard work was going.
At times I had to laugh -- if only to myself. A lot of the young volunteers got to dig in the San Gabriel Mountains for the first time today and I was amused by their comments about the ability to put one's shovel just anywhere, dig a foot or so down, and always manage to strike huge boulders. The history of these canyons and the road building, dam building, and all the other massive, sweaty efforts that have taken place in these mountains has always been stuffed full of tool-busting granite and I imagine that the canyon walls still echo from the loud curses from decades past.
Noise, turmoil, and confusion. For all of that, it looked to me as though everyone who participated -- which doesn't include me; I took photographs and rested in the cool shade of an ancient oak tree -- had a lot of fun. I read and drowsed off while the noise and commotion of the tree planting went on around me.
When the saplings were all in the ground, the tools had all been reassembled, and things got finished up, the Forest Service vehicles made one last, slow pass through the Coldbrook Campgrounds, looking things over and making sure that nobody was left behind -- at least nobody who didn't want to be left behind was left behind.
As the big flatbed truck -- now empty of infant pine trees -- chugged away down the road, the last of the noise and motion drained away, leaving me alone with the breeze in the oak trees and the sound of the stream endlessly arguing with the rocks over which it flowed.
I emerged from my tent and took a look around. Grabbing my old cow-skin hat from the handlebars of my borrowed bicycle, I walked around the grounds taking more photographs, this time of the newly-planted saplings and of the now-quiet campground.
When I walked up to the first new tree, I thought about how brave and fragile it looked, surrounded by the rocks that small hands had collected and placed around the equally-small tree.
This is youth nurturing youth. I love this.
There's a measure of faith here, and a measure of hope. Many of these trees will survive, and just possibly some of the volunteers who planted them today will return 20 years from now with their own children, standing in the shade of the fresh pines, enjoying the fruits of today's efforts.
That got me thinking about the survivability of these tree planting efforts so I took my camera outside of the campgrounds and hiked back down the highway a bit, past the Valley of the Moon, and across the highway to where a field of reworked dirt had been leveled about two years ago and to where a previous tree planting had taken place.
I walked around the older tree planting, doing so in a grid (annoyed to find that my camera's batteries were nearly flat and wouldn't take more photographs; I tend to use old, outdated, obsolete technology) so that I could examine the health of the trees that had been planted previously.
What I found was encouraging: Despite the near-record low of rainfall so far, every one of the plants that had been established in the area were healthy, still tender, and doing just fine. None of the plants that had been installed had died yet.
About 1000 yards further North, a stand of pine trees that had been badly burned in the Williams Fire some six years ago had managed to come back, sprouting fresh green -- vividly alive with the backdrop of burned-black bark -- limbs. This is an area where trees want to grow, and I have hopes that every one of the trees that were planted today will survive for our future generations.
After night fell, I packed up my things in the dark, strapped everything to my bicycle, and pushed my bike slowly up to the Valley of the Moon, spent an hour enjoying the quiet, then I bicycled down about two miles, spreading out my sleeping bag along the bottom of a drainage ditch where I watched the stars until the Moon rose.
In the morning I packed up and bicycled down, passing by Patrick (USFS) who was setting up the Forest Service's big 30-foot-long recreation vehicle (actually a mobile education center) and also biking past the Elmer Pen (off road vehicle area) where Lois, I think it was, or maybe John (USFS) honked their Service vehicle's horn at me as I zipped on by.
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