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Redwood Seedlings Planted in Fire-Scarred Santa Cruz Mountains

SANTA CRUZ COUNTY (KPIX) -- A local non-profit is teaming up with Cal Fire to rehabilitate wide swaths of the burn scar from the CZU Complex Fire in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

The Save the Redwoods League -- working in partnership with Peninsula Open Space Trust, Sempervirens Fund and the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County -- are planting 23,000 redwood seedlings and 190 Douglas fir seedlings in the San Vicente Redwoods, an 8,200 acre section of forest along the 11800 block of Empire Grade.

A small army of workers has been fanning out across about 4,000 acres of the northern half of the property and planting the year-old seedlings, connecting "isolates" or small clusters of redwoods in order to improve cohesion.

Anthony Castaños, land stewardship manager at Save the Redwoods League, said the effort would help return the area to its natural state before it was used for logging, with the "ultimate goal of creating a fire-ready forest."

"Between the two redwood [isolates], it's all tan oak, which have kind of grown in and keep kept these different redwood groves separated from each other. It's harder for new redwoods spreads to come in. So this is our chance to try and get it back on the trajectory of what it was," said Castaños.

The intense heat and flames from CZU fire damaged or destroyed 97% of the trees in San Vicente, reaching up into the canopy and burning the foliage that would have absorbed much of the sunlight before it reached the forest floor. As a result, tan oaks and madrones sprouts are now growing faster, potentially choking out the redwoods.

This week's planting gives the redwoods a much needed boost and advantage. Because of the redwoods' natural fire resistant properties, reverting the forest back to its original state will prepare the area for the next disaster.

"The fire burns at a much lower intensity, burns in a much more natural way, as it did when the Native Americans managed the landscape with fire. And then we don't end up with these really catastrophic wildfires that devastate the forest and burn over certain communities," said Castaños.

A typical worker can plant 100 to 200 seedlings in a day. The crews should be finished by the end of the week. Those who were participating were happy to be able to help with the reforestation plan.

"To be able to add on to the forest so that others in the future can also benefit the way I have, is an amazing feeling," said Stanley Shaw, Conservation Programs Assistant at Save the Redwoods League.

"It felt amazing. Just being out here, putting life in the ground after fire is pretty awesome," said writer and editor at Save the Redwoods League Dana Poblete.

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