Students help 'heal' forest

A slope scorched by the Siskiyou fire in September will have 300 new shrubs and trees by day's end, thanks to a group of hardworking students.

Dodging snowflakes, sixth-grade students from St. Mary's School and high school students from The Job Council planted ponderosa pines, Douglas firs and other trees this morning in the Tolman Creek Watershed.

The 12-acre replanting project is part of the Lomakatsi Restoration Project's Streamside Forest Recovery week, an effort to connect local students with the environment.

"We're helping to heal this forest," Marco Bey, director of the environmental nonprofit, told the students this morning.

Directly below where the two-dozen students stood was a slope charred by the Siskiyou fire. Dead trees stabbed out of the grey ground, standing in stark contrast to the fall foliage covering the city below.

"All the trees are just dead. There are no leaves," said Vincent Merry, 11.

"It's amazing, but horrible," added Josh Martin, 11.

The Siskiyou fire began on Sept. 21 and burned 190 acres in south Ashland's hills, coming dangerously close to dozens of homes and decimating one.

After learning how to properly carry their shovels and wear their hardhats, the students trekked down the hillside to plant the saplings, grown in Lomakatsi's Ashland nurseries.

"We're giving the natural reforestation efforts a little bit of a jumpstart by planting native species," said Niki Del Pizzo, Lomakatsi's education and outreach director.

The nonprofit is planting the trees on the slope, located off a private drive connected to Tolman Creek Road, at the request of the landowner.

The trees and shrubs will help reduce erosion on the hillside by creating shade and building root systems, and will create a better habitat for wildlife, Del Pizzo said.

"This particular area is on a very steep slope and there used to be a canopy of trees there, but now there's no coverage, so when the rains fall, there's going to be severe erosion and kind of like mudslide effect," she said. "We're trying to place the trees strategically across the hillside to catch some of that soil that would erode."

Three years ago, Lomakatsi thinned about 100 acres of brush and trees in the Tolman Creek Watershed, which significantly helped to slow the spread of the Siskiyou fire, Bey said. Where thinning work wasn't done, "that's where the fire blew up," he said.

Today's replanting activity was an opportunity to teach students and landowners about the importance of preparing for a wildfire and dealing with the aftermath of one, he said.

"It's really an education in the past fire to come up here," Bey said.

After seeing the land burned by the Siskiyou fire, Bella Yaeger, 11, said she was glad she could do something to help.

"It was sad in a way just to see all the dead plants," she said, "but I think what we're doing is really good for the environment and it's helping the community."

Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or

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