DAVIS, Calif. (KTXL) — As California experiences more intense fires year after year, Cal Fire has scientists working behind the scenes to help the forest recover in burned areas.
One of Cal Fire’s major operations involves growing hundreds of thousands of trees to repopulate the state’s forests every year.
“Most of the areas that are covered with grassland, one time or another, they were covered with forest trees, and with repeated fires, the trees are lost forever,” explained Kuldeep Singh, Cal Fire horticulturist and nursery manager.
That’s why a small crew at Cal Fire’s seed bank and tree nursery in Davis is working to keep forests across California healthy.
“Reforestation is really vital for health in our forests, as well as helping to establish and prevent a lot of these fires that are occurring,” said Denia Troxell, Cal Fire assistant seed bank manager.
It all starts with collecting cones. After tree climbers gather the cones from the top third of forest trees, they send them to a facility in Davis for testing.
“We get a cone and we cut it in half and we get a few samples from the tree, and based on the seed fill, will determine if we’ll collect and move forward with it,” Troxell told FOX40.
From there, they extract the seeds using multiple heating, tumbling and sorting machines.
“Our standards are really high because we’re trying to provide that quality,” Troxell said.
The collected seeds are then stored in a giant freezer before being sent over to the nursery to germinate.
“So these are ponderosa pines. We did the sowing of the seeds in March of this year and they will be here until mid-November,” Singh pointed out.
It’s a monthslong process to get the seedlings ready to sell to the public and after the 2020 fire season, the Cal Fire nursery is seeing more demand than ever.
“All the seedlings, the 240,000 that we are growing this year are all taken for,” Singh said.
Cal Fire is working on building more greenhouses so they can, eventually, grow a million trees per year.
Although most of the people who work at the nursery will never actually see those trees reach maturity, they said they’re proud to help repopulate California’s forests.
“I have family and I have kids and I want them to have a healthy environment to grow in,” Troxell said.
“It is our duty, our generation, to make sure that we put back whatever is lost for the future generations, otherwise it will be lost forever,” Singh said.
Cal Fire’s nursery in Davis actually closed in the early 2000s because of budget cuts but recently reopened in 2017. More funding in recent years has allowed them to hire more people and expand their operations.
Cal Fire sells a majority of the seedlings to private landowners for 50 cents each.