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Reviving a forest

234,000 Engelmann spruce seedlings replace losses in 2002 fire

When most people had their feet up Sunday, an Oregon tree-planting crew, hired by the U.S. Forest Service, was placing the last of 234,000 1-year-old Engelmann spruce seedlings on Missionary Ridge north of Durango.

The project complements the planting last year of 189,000 seedlings of the same species on land where aspen has not come back or where there is no evidence of spruce or fir regeneration.

The two-year project covered 763 acres burned in the 2002 Missionary Ridge, which scorched most of 72,000 acres.

“We selected the areas to plant because they were accessible enough to get planters and the trees to the site,” said Gretchen Fitzgerald, the forester in charge of the project.

The planted area is at about 10,000 feet elevation.

The seedlings originated from spruce seed collected on Middle Mountain north of Vallecito and Missionary Ridge last fall. They were grown in a Forest Service nursery in Nebraska.

The seedlings were delivered in a dormant state to Fitzgerald in mid-September. They were planted with root plugs and soil within two weeks of arrival.

Two Forest Service inspectors monitored the planting, Fitzgerald said.

Inspectors make sure the seedlings are planted in a shaded area because temperatures above 80 degrees will burn the spruce seedlings, Fitzgerald said.

Inspectors also see the seedling is packed tightly but not covered with dirt and the roots are straight by digging with a trowel, Fitzgerald said.

“We check 2 percent of the plantings,” Fitzgerald said. “In five years we’ll survey the overall project.”

The reforestation is paid for by the Disney Corp. through the National Forest Foundation. The corporation is making a voluntary contribution to offset its carbon emissions.

Disney will receive carbon offsets once trees reach 4.5 feet in about 20 years, Fitzgerald said.

The Forest Service doesn’t deal in carbon credits, which are marketable, Fitzgerald said.

Officials will register the project with the American Carbon Registry and any carbon sequestration will be accounted for in the registry, Fitzgerald said.

“We’ll monitor this project for the next five years to determine its survival and success,” Fitzgerald said.

Another tree planting is scheduled around Vallecito in spring 2015 when 250 acres will receive ponderosa pine and Douglas fir seedlings. The project will last three years.


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