Replanting trees and bringing back trails

May 18, 2017


The Northern California destination of Lake County experienced a series of devastating wildfires in 2015 and 2016 that destroyed over 1200 homes along with thousands of acres of beautiful wooded areas including some favorite trails and hiking areas. Now progress is being made on replanting the trees alongside new development in the area and a number of great places to visit that survived the fires.

The first large-scale replanting of 300,000 Ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, and Sugar pine seedlings has been completed by professional tree planting crews on approximately 1,200 acres. Black oaks will naturally re-seed and/or sprout from existing stumps. Manzanita and Live oak growth will be controlled to allow the evergreens a chance to take root and grow. Boggs forest management’s vision is to cultivate a natural-looking forest, not a tree farm.

Much of the logging has been accomplished. The massive job of cleaning up and burning debris piles has been aided by the drenching rains and favorable wind conditions this winter. Thus far, according to the unofficial post office rain measurements, the Cobb area has received over 115 inches of rain. While erosion is always an issue with abnormally wet years, the investment CAL FIRE made in re-grading, graveling and adding culverts since the fire have paid off.

Now the fun part. Friends of Boggs Mountain (FOBM) took the lead in collaboration with CAL FIRE in establishing a new trail system with a focus on multi-use. Starting with some legacy trails that will closely parallel a few of the trails that existed prior to the fire, the group will plan and build a new system of trails that will be designed to accommodate all user groups. Individuals from our hiking, equestrian and mountain biking communities will take part in establishing a trail system that offers each user group the experience they are seeking.

There will be an emphasis on sustainable trails that “tell a story”, with consideration given to all forms of recreation and conflict avoidance.

Bringing Back the Trees

How the trees got replanted was a story unto itself. Upon arrival, the seedlings were kept at a storage facility in Kelseyville until professional tree planting crews arrived and were geared up to get to work.

Staff were responsible for loading seedlings onto a CAL FIRE stake truck where they delivered the trees to the various planting areas.

During the replanting process the crews had to be continually supplied with these seedlings from the refrigerated storage so crews were constantly on the move. Among the challenges of the replanting process included continuing forest clean up while simultaneously monitoring planting progress.

Fortunately, Boggs Mountain Demonstration State Forest (BMDSF) has small crews on loan from various CAL FIRE units to step in and help. Even with the added assistance, they’re still short-staffed but working diligently on getting our forest opened which often times means long days for the BMDSF crew.

The logistics of supplying trees to crews can be tricky. BMDSF has to balance the number of trees for delivery to ensure there are no delays in planting, and avoid delivering too many trees that may have to sit in the heat too long.

The necessity to keep trees in a refrigerated storage facility is to temporarily stunt their growth till they are ready for planting. Warm weather is a potential threat to tender seedlings; thus, they need to be monitored.

BMDSF and planting crews communicate continually while the trees wait to be planted. Expected rain in the forecast is often happily welcomed for these hard working crews.

The contracted tree company, Great Tree Tenders from Redwood Valley, has an experienced crew of workers that work swiftly and efficiently. So far they’re averaging approximately 40,000 trees planted per day which has significantly reduced the number of trees sitting on the truck.

The process for planting the trees is remarkable. The crews line up in a linear fashion and spread out approximately 13’ apart if it’s on the slope or 15’ if on flat land. Armed with a hoedad blade and a bag full of seedlings, the planters move in unison to get the trees in the ground in what is an amazingly rapid and efficient process. Each planter scrapes the ground with the back end of the hoedad to remove the woody debris and plant matter. Then they flip the hoedad to the blade side and in one swipe, dig a hole for the seedling.

Each planter must plant a seedling in a hole at exactly the correct depth so as not to bury the seedling too far, causing it to die, and not too shallow that the roots are exposed, rendering the sapling susceptible to death.

The experienced planting crew works swiftly through burned brush and trees that remain in the area. These will eventually add to the nutrients needed to support new forest growth.
Watching BMDSF crews working with the tree planting crews is so well organized; it’s a remarkable team effort with players who appear to have had years, not just a few days, of experience working together.

The planting crew spends most of their day laboriously hunched over with a split bag full of trees on their waist, getting as many trees planted as possible.

The process will require a lot of work and patience. CAL FIRE hopes to have a few trails open for use once Boggs is reopened. With FOBM, its partners and stakeholder participation, future trails will be a work in progress. This is an opportunity to not only replace the trail system we all grew to love but improve upon it.

Bringing Back the Trails

Bike ride through Boggs Mountain
Boggs Mountain Demonstration State Forest (BMDSF) has been a refuge for many and a natural jewel in Southern Lake County for decades. But most importantly it is a working, breathing, living thing that not only imparts knowledge in the form of forestry best practices, but also offers each of us a place to go for recreation and self-reflection, and where answers to questions we haven’t yet imagined might be revealed.

BMDSF crews have been able to successfully keep the planting crew supplied in trees during their rapid progress, which means better survival rates and more trees that we’ll have a chance to enjoy watching their growth.

As of the end of March, the planting took place off Road 300 in an approximately 650-acre plot which is about half of the area to be completed. Great Tree Tenders has a crew of approximately 20 workers on the ground and will increase that amount as the planting progresses. The goal is to double the number of crews. This will increase the amount of trees planted daily to ensure that those 300,000 seedlings will get in the ground as quickly as possible.

Thanks to the hard work of the planting crews and BMDSF staff, we are comforted that Boggs is in the full process of restoration. The progress of trees getting planted is one more step towards getting Boggs open to the public.