What You're Pine-ing Fir: Angeles National Forest Will Be Home to 3 Million New Trees in Station Fire Burn Areas

The Angeles National Forest is still painfully scarred from the devastating 2009 Station Fire, and today comes word from the U.S. Forest Service that a project will find 3 million pine and fir trees planted in a 10,000-acre region over the next five years. As part of what is being hailed as "the first ecological response" to the massive blaze, those incoming trees will "offset greenhouse-gas emissions from a refinery in El Segundo," according to the LA Times.

Though there have been other efforts to reforest the scorched area, this new project is the largest in scale. However, it is not without controversy:

Critics contend that the project could alter the ecological balance of a region dominated by fire-dependent chaparral vegetation surrounding small clusters of native trees in steep canyons. They also worry that federal funding for the project could dry up before it is completed.

A pine is not a pine, opine critics, who worry that a huge chunk of the seedlings slated for spring planting "were grown from seeds harvested from Coulter pines that evolved in separate mountain ranges, including in the Cleveland, Los Padres and San Bernardino national forests." The problem: Those pines may have been put there by settlers, and are therefore not indigenous to the region. Planting Coulter pines in a big-cone Douglas fir forest is "not an appropriate form of ecosystem management," according to U.S. Geological Survey biologist Jon Keeley.

For their part, the Forest Service says they're doing their best to get as close as possible to the pre-Station Fire conditions, but admit there just isn't seedling availability to make a complete exact match. They concede that the species mix might not even make it to an 80% pre-fire matching accuracy. Planning based on seedling availability and bureaucratic restraints worries those on the eco front, who remain critical of the project.

Unfortunately, who will be proven right—or wrong—is something either the project's proponents or naysayers won't be around to witness, considering how slowly pine and fir seedlings take to grow into actual trees.