A significant portion of the seedling trees planted last year in the Station Fire burn zone have not survived, according to officials involved in the project, though the Angeles National Forest has yet to release an official count.
The 2009 blaze--largest in L.A. County history--scorched more than 165,000 acres and while the chaparral, grass and sage have come back quickly on their own,the effort to restore 4,300 acres of pines and firs is proving more difficult than projected.
Hundreds of thousands of seedlings were planted in 2011 to try to jump start that portion of the forest. It was anticipated that many would not survive. As it turned out, 45% of the planting units fell short of goals, according to Vance Russell of the National Forest Foundation, a partner of the Angeles Forest in the project.
A round of replacement replanting will be required. However, lack of resources meant missing the planting season this year.
"There weren’t enough trees to replant this project. So the trees are on order and it’ll be replanted next year," said Russell from his office in Davis.
A driving force behind the project is the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which sees restoring the forest--a generator of oxygen from carbon dioxide--as a way to compensate for the carbon dixide emissions from the Chevron Refinery in El Segundo. The AQMD called the less than projected survival rate of the initial seedlings a "setback," but emphasized funding is available for replanting--$900-thousand of the $1.5 million provided by Chevron.
"The Forest Service has committed to us that they are going to make sure that the adequate number of trees are planted and survive," said Barry Wallerstein, executive officer of South Coast Air Quality Management District.
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Beyond the fire damage to ground cover that is steep and often rocky, prolonged dry spells and competition from invasive brush add to the challenge for reforesting the Angeles, Russell said. But he remains 'optimistic the forest will come back" perhaps as quickly as within 15 years.
The LA Times first reported the disappointment with seedling survival rates on April 7. Its report included an estimate that a "quarter" of the seedlings had withered and died . The exact number is contained in a Forest Service report that the federal agency, a part of the Interior Department, so far has declined to make public.