Forest Service begins emergency reseeding effort
September 16, 2004
“You’ll be surprised how green things will look come spring,” promises Carl Pence, 40-year veteran of the U.S. Forest Service, standing amid the 4,000 barren acres of charred shrubs in the Timberline area destroyed by the Waterfall fire.
Perhaps most noticeable is not the utter destruction, but the extant housing subdivison in the middle of the overwhelming blight. Thanks to the fire department, it survived intact.
Pence takes an expert look at the tar-black branch of a lone shrub expressing no sign of life.
“Some of these babies are starting to resprout already,” he said. “Fire stimulates. It’s nature’s way of regenerating.”
Behind Pence, a heavy-lift helicopter called a “Llama,” the same kind used to put out forest fires, hovers into place, stirring up dust and heat as it struggles to hoist a large bucket of seed. The shearing metal of the blades cut into the dry air and the throbbing reverberative heartbeats of the chopper wane as the load is finally balanced and lifted skyward.
“These helicopters are great at high altitude,” said Pence. “They hold elevation records. These are the same kind the military uses to hunt for Osama bin Laden over in Afghanistan.”
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The helicopter flies off into a basin, opens the gate over the targeted patch of ground and releases a mixture of grass seed, a special species of nitrogen-releasing legume, bluegrass, wheat grass and a wheat/rye hybrid. Each seed has its own special purpose, some species growing better on northern-facing slopes, some better on southern-facing slopes.
Replanting and restoring a burned area has become a science to the Forest Service.
Next will come the bales of straw – special rye straw from the San Fernando Valley that holds together better than regular wheat straw. Then, they’ll hope for some rain.
“Fire-burned areas will regenerate naturally,” Pence said. “But this is an emergency rehabilitation,” a sort of transfusion “to give the area a jump-start and prevent mudslides, wind erosion and flooding come this winter.”
According to Pence, the crew will work 10 hour shifts, 7 days a week until the job gets done.
“What you’re seeing is the just the first part of a long series of activities to rehabilitate the area,” he said, watching as the helicopter flies back to make another run.
Contact Peter Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1215.