By Sydney Mucha, Communications Intern
Tahoe National Forest is home to one of California’s most complex and diverse ecosystems. The forest encompasses snow-capped mountains, winding rivers and densely packed tree stands, enough to make anyone stand in awe of the area’s beauty. The forest is especially known for its massive stands of sugar pine, which is the largest species of pine in the world. The species dots the picturesque landscape in the high elevations of the park and can grow more than 200 feet tall and six feet in diameter!
Yet, this serene landscape and the glorious sugar pine has been tarnished by two fires: the 2013 American Fire and the 2014 Hirschdale Fire, which destroyed 27,400 and 84 acres (respectively?) and much of the forest ecosystem. And to make matters worse, the sugar pine and white pine species have been decimated by blister rust since the early-2000s!
The Sugar Pine Foundation saw these fires as a chance to restore the forest and the beloved sugar pine. To carry out their restoration efforts, the Foundation’s staff climb blister rust-resistant trees and use the cones that they collect to germinate seedlings for their plantings so the new trees will also be immune to the non-native invasive fungus.
“The wind started to blow all of a sudden, and the next thing I know I am hugging the tree to stay upright,” said Maria Mircheva of the Sugar Pine Foundation about this fall’s cone collection “It was one of the most terrifying and exciting experiences I have had.”
For Maria and other members of the Foundation, these collections, while dangerous, are the most fun and do the most good for future trees.
And now, thanks to a partnership between American Forests and the Sugar Pine Foundation, the cones collected from the fall are being germinated at this moment for a spring planting. The two groups plan to plant 7,000 sugar pine over 152 acres — encompassing the 91 acres destroyed by the fires and 61 acres on California’s Northstar Resort for added conservation efforts. More than 400 volunteers from various school groups and community organizations from the greater Tahoe area will help plant the trees.
Most importantly, these new seedlings will help bring diversity back to the forest, which already has large stands of Jeffery pines and white firs. Biodiverse forest ecosystems can tolerate environmental stressors such as disease and drought. Additionally, these trees will help protect the region’s watershed, provide habitat to a variety of wildlife, decrease future fire risk and restore the beauty and recreational benefits of the forest.