California forest managers are rethinking reforestation patterns to tackle wildfires

When a wildfire tears through a region, the first priority for conservationists is to begin replanting some of the habitat destroyed by the blazes, but in the face of climate change, some forest mangers are rethinking what this planting should look like. In Eldorado National Forest, researchers and forest managers are trying out cluster planting to replicate what the ecosystem would look like if fires came through regularly—therefore making the region more fire-resistant.

Led by Dana Walsh, the USDA Forest Service is planting a portion of the 8,000 acre King Fire burn scar with “clusters,” groupings of five or six trees, more spread out than they would be if trees were planted evenly across a landscape.

In addition to climate change, California’s wildfires are growing in intensity due to decades of fire suppression which has left forests with an abundance of flammable foliage and undergrowth. However, replanting trees in burned areas with clumped or mosaic-like patterns leaves more space between growth to slow fire progression and reduces competition between trees for faster reforestation.

There is also evidence that these planting patterns help trees better use underground water resources and become more drought resistant.

Looking at forests that have burned and then regenerated independently, the trees are found in groupings, rather than straight lines like in manually reforested areas.

California has designated $2 billion in wildfire mitigation funding, including $100 million for forest health projects like this. Facing climate change means coming up with new solutions and even revamping old ones. We all know that reforestation is good for the planet, but it turns out that how we reforest could also be key to creating ecosystems that most closely match natural environmental patterns and resist wildfire as much as possible.

To learn more about the concept of cluster planting, we encourage you to check out the full article below.

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