Kezia Hawkins, Executive Assistant to the CEO 

American Forests board and staff members

American Forests board and staff members in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.

Early this fall, I, along with several colleagues and members of the American Forests board of directors, had the amazing opportunity to tour one of American Forests’ largest reforestation projects, which is located in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park in San Diego County, Calif. (see American Forests, Winter 2012)

In 2003, 95 percent of the 25,000-acre park was charred by the state’s largest wildfire in recorded history, the Cedar Fire. The forest could not withstand the severe intensity of the fire and very little natural regeneration has taken place since. The damage has had a drastic effect on the local ecosystem, wiping out wildlife habitat, increasing erosion, decreasing water quality and putting massive amounts of stored carbon back into the atmosphere. American Forests began partnering with California State Parks in 2008, in cooperation with CAL FIRE and Conoco Phillips, to help restore Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.

Being a D.C. native, I had never seen anything like the devastation of a major wildfire, other than what I had seen on the news. The tour gave me a real sense of the fire’s effect and a greater appreciation for the work that goes into restoring damaged forests and all the volunteers that devote an enormous amount of time to the project. Our board and staff also gained a clearer view of the project’s progress and impact. I believe our vice president of development summed up the experience best by saying, “Seeing the Cuyamaca project was a refreshing reminder about why we are all in the conservation business.”