To return land to its original state by planting native trees and shrubs.
A decade ago, the lush green forest blanketing the Kern River in Weldon, California was in peril. The precious streamside habitat was threatened by overgrazing and the invasion of non-native species. Restoration work begun by the Nature Conservancy and now under the management of Audubon of California has reforested more than 300 acres of the 1100-acre Kern River Preserve which is now the largest continuous stand of Cottonwood-Willow forest in California.
Today, when Preserve manager Reed Tollefson steps out of his house in the early morning, the sights and sounds of a healthy streamside forest greet him.
"The most rewarding part is to go back to the sites and look at the trees and then to learn," Tollefson said.
The restoration and replanting of the native forest today is coupled with the work of research scientists who evaluate the success of the new growth forest. Tollefson uses a combination of active and passive methods in his work restoring the native cottonwood and willow forest on the Preserve. Some days are spent propagating, taking cuttings, planting, weeding or working on the irrigation system. Other days, Tollefson finds himself repairing fences, rotating livestock on grazing schedules and simply letting Mother Nature work to reclaim the wildland.
Tollefson also manages a volunteer work force that helps with tree plantings and maintenance projects.
A strong background in biology and a knack for networking can help those interested in getting started in wildland restoration work. "It's a combination of what you know and who you know," Tollefson. "Most important is volunteering or working at ridiculously low wages to get experience and get to know people and let them get to know you even if you have to do it for free."
As the effects of the past become more and more apparent, work in wildland restoration may take on critical importance in many areas. "Higher elevations were disturbed by logging and mining, lower elevations by cattle ranching and agriculture and more recently development," said Mehmet McMillan, Mountain Forestry Manager with Tree People in Los Angeles. "The goal," McMillan said, "is to get the open spaces back on some level of a natural cycle."