Seedling shortage to stymie replanting

By Alex MacLean, The Union Democrat

Private landowners in Tuolumne County planning to reforest their Rim Fire-damaged properties soon are facing statewide shortages of conifer seedlings.

Cal Fire ceased speculative seedling production for non-industrial private forest landowners in 2011 after state budget cuts forced the closure of the agency's Magalia Reforestation Center in Butte County. As a result, private landowners enrolled in cost-share reforestation programs are required to contract with outside nurseries to grow their seedlings and wait more than a year before planting.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service anticipates a statewide need of about 1.7 million seedlings over the next two planting seasons for people enrolled in its cost-share programs, according to NRCS State Forester Stephen Smith.

That could be cause for concern for some Tuolumne County residents with land damaged by the Rim Fire.

The massive blaze burned more than 400 square miles in the Stanislaus National Forest. Private land accounted for about 23,000 acres of the area that burned, according to post-fire assessments.

More than two-thirds of that private land is owned by Sierra Pacific Industries, an Anderson-based lumber company, which publicly stated it has plenty of seedlings to recover its losses.

The urgency to quickly reforest is increased by brush and low-lying shrubs that typically grow in behind wildfires and compete with tree seedlings for water and sunlight.

But landowners enrolled in the NRCS and Cal Fire reimbursement programs could wait up to 18 months before seedlings are ready to be planted.

They must first place an order for seedlings with private nurseries, which identify the species, seed zone, elevation, quantities and date needed. Cal Fire's seed bank at the L.A. Moran Reforestation Center in Davis then connects landowners with appropriate growers.

"Having trees on spec would have allowed some people to plant next spring, but they would have to wait until next year with the contracting process," said NRCS Central Sierra Forester Matthew McNicol.

A landowner must personally contract with a private nursery to grow the seedlings and can apply for reimbursement only after paying for those seedlings and planting in accordance with the contract's specifications.

It has yet to be determined whether the private-sector growers will be able to meet the increased demand in Tuolumne County, McNicol said.

Contact McNicol at 984-0500 for more information about the ordering process, including contact information for nurseries that have agreed to work with landowners.

The Union Democrat
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