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Reforestation Of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

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Video published March 19, 2010 | Download MP4 | View transcript

Above: It's been almost seven years since the Cedar Fire ravaged Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. What kind of progress has been made in the efforts to bring the forest back?

GLORIA PENNER (Host): Tens of thousands of trees were planted this week at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, in an effort to reforest the area after it was badly burned in the 2003 Cedar Fire. KPBS reporter Sharon Heilbrunn shows us what's being done to revive the ecology of the park.

SHARON HEILBRUNN (KPBS Reporter): It's been nearly seven years since the Cedar Fire devastated Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, near Julian. Now, there are efforts to reforest patches of the area that simply won't grow back.

MIKE WELLS (Project Manager, CA Department of Parks): Well, the park burned during the Cedar Fire of 2003 and of the park, all but 500 acres burned. So about 25, 000 acres burned. About 17,000 acres of that was forest and woodland. The reason that fire was different from other fires was that it burned at a uniformly high intensity here at the park. So it killed most of the trees in the forest. Since that time we've only seen very limited natural recovery. So, we’re concerned that we may see a type conversion from pine forest to chaparral bush land over a good portion of the park.

HEILBRUNN: So, matters are being taken into human hands. Close to 80,000 trees were planted at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park this week by a professional tree planting crew. Park officials are concerned that without reforestation, the park might convert from a conifer forest to a chaparral brush land. If that happens, certain species of wildlife would likely be affected.

WELLS: San Diego County has the highest level of biodiversity of any county in the continental United States. A part of that is that we have several different types of habitats, and conifer forest is a relatively small habitat – say it’s about 10 percent of the chaparral cover of the county – but it supports some species that only occur, things like the southern spotted owl and the purple martin are only found in mature pine forest in the county. So it makes a big contribution to the county's biodiversity.

HEILBRUNN: Reforestation is also good for the environment.

WELLS: There are climate benefits to the project. When trees grow they incorporate carbon into their structure, so they actually take carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, out of the atmosphere.

HEILBRUNN: Wells says it will take decades for the forest to return to the way it looked before the Cedar Fire.

WELLS: That may take the better part of the century. But we feel that what we're trying to do is reestablish patches of forest. We're not reforesting the whole park, only about 10 percent of it. But those patches will act as centers of re-colonization for the rest of the forest, so that trees, so that seed can spread out of those patches and help grow the forest in other areas as well.

HEILBRUNN: The project is funded by a public/private partnership. About half of the $6 million cost is being paid for by private sponsors, like the Coca-Cola Company and Stater Brothers Markets. Without that help, Wells believes there would be no reforestation.

WELLS: Right now, the state of California doesn't have the resources to undertake large projects like this, so it's only taking place because we've had several very generous private donors.

HEILBRUNN: Other ways that park officials plan to keep the area healthy include regular trimming and also, controlled burns.

WELLS: Well, I'll say this that we didn't do enough in the past, and controlled burning will be part of the plan of this forest to manage it into the future.

We want to keep the density of the forest relatively low as compared to how it was in 2003, and so the likelihood of a high intensity wildfire happening here again will be much reduced.

HEILBRUNN: It will take about ten days to plant 78,000 trees at Cuyamaca

Rancho State Park. To learn more about reforestation efforts, visit We want to know if you've visited Cuyamaca Rancho State Park lately. Tell us about your experience at For KPBS, I'm Sharon Heilbrunn.

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