As most of us know, the realities of the pandemic have presented difficult challenges for all aspects of our normal lives. The reforestation projects we support at the National Forest Foundation (NFF) are no exception.
The U.S. Forest Service has been conducting risk assessments and grappling with how to safely implement important projects across the country. While some areas were unable to implement projects due to COVID-19, other areas are able to move forward with planting seasons with risk mitigation and strong social distancing practices.
That’s why I felt especially grateful to join our Forest Service partners on the nearby Lolo National Forest this spring to witness one important reforestation project. After a 30 minute drive to the community of Seeley Lake, Montana, and several miles of dusty forest roads (each in our own vehicles) we arrived at the site.
The Forest Service hired contractors to plant in an area that burned in the 2017 Rice Ridge Fire. For two hot summer months in 2017, local communities endured an unprecedented level of wildfire smoke as the fire burned a grand total of 160,000 acres.
While not all areas in the burn area needed planting, this project area clearly needed new trees. Mature trees, understory shrubs and saplings all succumbed to the fire. I watched in awe as a crew of 12 professional tree planters spread out in front of our small group, planting native ponderosa pine and western larch seedlings every 13 feet.
The “clank” sound of a planting tool encountering a rock interrupted the chorus of spring songbirds, carried by western tanagers and chickadees. No sooner than I could check the time, professional planters arrived back at the site to refill planting bags with more seedlings and continue on.
In a time when our world has been upended, it was no small comfort to witness this important work occurring.