One question we get at The Gifted Tree is “Why plant again after a forest fire, aren’t you just setting the scenario for another forest fire?” As with most issues in life, there are two sides to the story. Since here at The Gifted Tree we plant gift trees, I will lean toward the “plant again” side.
Wildfire is a necessary and important part of a natural landscape, but it is undeniable that some wildfires have harsh and negative impacts on communities, water resources, outdoor recreation resources, and fish and wildlife habitat. In these cases, post-fire restoration can be crucial to prevent further damage and to spur recovery. Reforestation is important in creating wildlife habitat, decreasing soil erosion, encouraging snow retention, sequestering carbon, providing clean air and water, and reestablishing native tree species and future seed sources.
Damage from some wildfires doesn’t always stop once the flames are suppressed and the smoke clears, and is sometimes more devastating than the fire itself. Loss of vegetation as a result of an intensely burning large fire can expose soil to erosion. We have all read about the recent fires in California followed by torrential rains creating massive and deadly mud slides.
The sight of blackened earth after a fire is hard to take, but in this plight, patience is a virtue. While every fire situation is different, post-fire restoration is a process that can take years. Sometimes the trees can grow back on their own – the blackened trees lining the ground hide what is going on their underside ─ sometimes there is new growth which can spawn new trees as well as provide a habitat for wildlife such as birds. Also. while the temperatures at surface level can be very high, destroying all vegetation, just below the surface, the temperatures can be quite normal. Thus, in certain situations, root systems remain intact and will regenerate on their own.
In other situations, fires burn with such intensity that no seed source remains, and humans need to be the catalyst. In these situations, the reforestation action starts with a seed, literally. The forest service is in the business of constantly collecting seeds from different elevations and different species of trees from forests all over the country. These seeds are carefully labeled so that when they are needed, they are replanted in the exact area where, or very near to where, they were harvested. In fact, in addition be being geographically replanted in the same area, seeds are planted at the same elevation within 700 feet from where they were collected. That means a Ponderosa Pine seed collected in Colorado would not be planted in Idaho. Or one collected in Northern Colorado would not be replanted in Southern Colorado. If collected and handled properly, these seeds can be viable for 30 to 40 years.
The Gifted Tree works with partners who focus on planting where the greatest reforestation needs exist, in areas impacted by large-scale fires or insects and disease where there is virtually no probability the area will reforest on its own. In those cases, seeds are ordered from the seed bank nursery and the nursery workers find the ones collected from the area when the devastation occurred.
Once the seeds are carefully inspected and the duds discarded, they are planted in holes made in large Styrofoam blocks. Those blocks lay end-to-end in the glass greenhouse, where workers nurse them along until the next viable planting season. That means the seedlings will not be ready to plant until at least one year after a fire. At the same time, Forest Service experts prepare the burned area and make sure it is safe for the workers and the soil is ready for planting.
At precisely the right moment, usually late spring, or early summer, the baby trees are shipped back to the forest for planting. They have a very high survival rate because they are genetically ready for the climate, altitude and soil conditions of the area.
Reforestation is a scientifically honed process, a picture that takes a while to complete. The Gifted Tree works with agencies that not only plant your gift tree where it has the best chance for growth but revisit the planting areas for several years after to ensure long-term viability. So whether the gift tree is planted in memory of a lost loved one, or to celebrate a happy life event, know that a lot of scientific thought went into the planting ensuring that your gift tree will have a lasting impact and be a gift to the earth as well. Discover more on the three steps to planting a gift tree at https://www.thegiftedtree.com/build-your-gift-in-three-easy-steps/.