When the Weber Fire burned 10,133 acres in the Mancos Valley last summer, it created a bleak landscape that looks to some like the proverbial moonscape that could take years to green up. Saturday, volunteers worked to give nature a hand by planting more than 1,000 trees and shrubs on five properties in the burn area.
“I’m usually spending a lot of time with trees that are burning down,” said volunteer Bruce Evans, chief of Upper Pine River Fire Protection District.
Evans made the trip over the hill with his son, Oliver, 7, and French fire-science student Guylham Calvet, who is in the U.S. for an internship.
Calvet specifically is studying risk management in places similar to the Mancos Valley with a focus on urban interface, mitigation and effects caused by climate change at the University of Bordeaux, Evans said.
Even before Saturday’s planting, signs of regeneration were visible, with Gambel oak shoots, bluebells and grasses rising next to the charred remnants of trees and shrubs.
All of the activity was on private lands and was designed in part to help reduce erosion.
Some of the properties already have experienced problems because of the lack of vegetation, said Rebecca Samulski, the event’s incident commander and Montezuma County chapter coordinator for the Firewise Council of Southwest Colorado.
Volunteers were attempting to plant more than 1,000 seedlings, including Rocky Mountain juniper, piñon and wild rose, Samulski said.
Kent Grant of the Colorado State Forest Service’s Durango District said almost all of the trees came from a program through the Colorado Forest Restoration Institute at Colorado State University.
“Quite a few property owners applied” to be included in the program, Grant said.
One of the faces of Saturday’s effort was Durango attorney Marla Underell, who is heading up the Southwest Colorado Bar Association’s fire-recovery effort. That, in turn, is part of the Colorado Bar Association and American Bar Association’s reforestation programs.
Underell said about 51 people called in advance to help out. The volunteers met at Boyle Park in Mancos around 9 a.m., were given safety talks and split into groups.
Group leaders also gave safety talks on site at their respective planting areas.
For instance, M.K. Thompson, education assistant at San Juan Mountains Association, told her group how to handle shovels safely, to watch for downed barbed-wire fences and tree stumps and where to do their “business.”
“Everyone’s got to learn to ‘go’ in the woods sometime,” Thompson said after pointing out a stand of live trees to the west.
More importantly, Thompson showed volunteers how to plant the trees and shrubs so they had a better chance at success. The plants were surrounded by plastic-mesh tree protectors and weed-blocking plastic ground covering.
Among the volunteers were 10 employees of Western Excelsior Corp., representatives of the U.S. Forest Service, members of Girl Scout Troop 2619 of Cortez and others simply wanting to give back to the community.
Troop Leader Dena Thomason said her scouts were participating as part of the troop members’ “Journey,” essentially an educational curriculum that focuses on water issues.