By Brittany Dyer, California State Director
I walked into the lobby of the Oxford Suites hotel in Chico, California, luckily grabbing the last room available. The lobby was packed with people. Most, such as an elderly woman named Barbara and her dog, were residents of the nearby town of Paradise. They had been living in the hotel for a few months, ever since a wildfire burned 155,000 acres, destroyed hundreds of homes and killed 100 people in their town.
Others were contractors from all over the country. They had come to inspect the homes that were still standing, test for toxins and other environmental hazards, and begin the recovery efforts.
Given the devastation to this remote mountain town in northern California, I had expected everybody there to feel lost and confused. They had, after all, lost their community. All the familiar faces they had been used to seeing every day—baby sitters, grocery store clerks, postal workers—were nowhere to be seen. Some had died. Some had moved to temporary housing.
But, in fact, they were surprisingly high-spirited. They had created a new sense of community, within the confines of the hotel.
It is these people who have motivated me—and others—to spend the last year strategizing how to restore the forests that were destroyed during the fire, known as the Camp Fire, which started a year ago this week. What’s top of mind for me is creating a strategy that is “climate informed.” In other words, it is focused on planting trees that can withstand severe droughts, wildfires, pest infestations and the other impacts of climate change. All trees are not good, much like all wildfires are not bad.
It also is climate informed because it emphasizes planting those trees in the right places. Soil conditions and competing vegetation are just two of the factors to take into consideration when determining the right place to plant a tree so that we don’t end up with overly dense forests that can easily ignite.
As we create the strategy, we are tapping into the latest science related to forest restoration and revegetation in the current climate and a warmer, potentially drier, future climate.
We hope to finalize the strategy within the coming months. It’s a slow process, only because this type of work has never been done before. California has never experienced wildfires at this scale and frequency. The strategy will be for public land in the Paradise region but will serve as a model for private landowners who want to reforest their land.
Absent a final strategy, we are already active on the ground. We’ve secured more than 65,000 tree seedlings, which we’ve started giving to our partners, such as the Fire Safe Council and Resource Conservation District.
I am grateful to be able to work on these place-based efforts with the Butte County Fire Safe Council, Butte County Resource Conservation District, Bureau of Land Management and others. They create a sense of community for me, much like the community Barbara had at Oxford Suites. Together, we will rebuild the forest and, thus, the community of tomorrow.