Scientists Are Trying to Make California Forests More Fire Resilient

Trees in forest

As the threat of wildfire looms, a debate has emerged in the state about the best way to plant trees.

June 21, 2021
Laura Bliss - Bloomberg

To the untrained eye, the scrubby slope off Wentworth Springs Road in the Eldorado National Forest looks like any other patch of Sierra Nevada ridgetop. Tufted in native shrubs and flecked by darkened pine stumps, it’s part of a 30,000-acre swath of land that was deforested in 2014, when the King Fire tore through 17 miles of canyon in less than six hours.

But Dana Walsh can see what’s unique. On a recent Sunday morning, the USDA Forest Service forester bent over a white flag pinned into the ground to mark a barely-visible seedling. As she points to other seemingly camouflaged baby conifers nearby, what starts to emerge is a subtle pattern she calls cluster planting.

“It’s tough to make out unless you know to look for it,” she said. “But once you see a tree, then you can spot the five or six planted near it. Then there’s nothing. Then there’s another five or six. Then there’s nothing.”


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