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Project Name: Mountain Communities Wildfire ReLeafMan planting tree.

Location: San Bernardino, CA

Number of Trees: 35,000

They’re the size of a grain of rice. While they’re barely visible to the naked eye, their destruction can be witnessed for miles. They’re bark beetles.

Traditionally, bark beetles, which live and feed underneath a tree’s bark, are a valued part of forest ecosystems. They target diseased, old, slow-growing or fire-damaged trees, creating wildlife habitat for creatures that make their home in tree snags and helping with the decomposition process that is vital to any forest. However, when the right combination of factors converges, it results in bark beetles killing wide swaths of forest.

One such factor is forest density. The more trees are grouped tightly together, the easier it is for the beetles to finish with one tree and move on to the next one. At only a few millimeters in size, bark beetles cannot travel very far for their next meal, so the closer the tree, the better.

Another factor is the ever-changing weather. During periods of normal precipitation, the forests are green and healthy. During periods of drought, trees aren’t quite as healthy, as they’re stressed from battling each other for water and other nutrients in short supply. As a result, they begin to resemble those diseased trees that the beetles normally favor. With the trees’ defenses weakened, bark beetles invade.

Six years of drought and the highly dense forests in California’s San Bernardino Mountains have converged over the previous decade, and bark beetles destroyed 12 million trees in an unprecedented outbreak. Add in California’s annual battles with fires, and the San Bernardino community needed some extra support to restore its forests.

Since 2005, American Forests has partnered with the Mojave Desert Resource Conservation District to plant trees, conduct outreach and education events and provide local landowners with needed support in the San Bernardino Mountains. Over the years, 300,000 seedlings have been planted, which has resulted in the return of many native animals to the area. In 2012, 35,000 more Jeffrey, sugar, ponderosa and Coulter pines will be added, increasing the available wildlife habitat and helping with soil erosion issues in the region.

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