New forest restoration project sprouts after 20 years

The Sequoia National Forest will be planting 700 acres of new trees and restoring the burned areas left by the 2002 McNally fire

PORTERVILLE – Twenty years have passed since the McNally fire burned hundreds of thousands of acres in the Sequoias, but only recently the forest services planned to plant new trees.

On Oct. 20, the Sequoia National Forest announced the beginning of the McNally Ecological Reforestation Project, which will restore burned areas caused by the McNalley fire in 2002. The project will plant 700 acres of new sequoia trees Kern River Ranger District., improve forest resilience to wildfires and improve the habitat for wildlife.

“An illegal campfire started the largest and most costly forest fire in the history of the Sequoia National Forest. The McNally Fire burned for 37 days and scorched 150,700 acres,” stated the USDA in a press release. “It was twice the size of any fire previously recorded in the area. By Sept. 8, 2002, the fire had cost taxpayers $53,342,000 in fire suppression.”

The Sequoia National Forest partnered with nonprofit American Forest and CAL FIRE who will help clear shrubs from the burned areas so that there are open spots for planting new trees. They will also reforest areas where natural regeneration has not occurred, according to Gretchen Fitzgerald, the Ecosystem Staff Officer.

The project will begin prepping the burned areas for planting in summer of 2023, and planting will begin almost a year later in the spring of 2024. There were initial efforts to restore the burned areas of the forest in 2002, but before forest service teams could take action, there was an intensive rain storm that dropped 20 inches of water in one night, creating a flood of mud and debris to fill the affected areas. Over $3,000,000 in emergency watershed rehabilitation funds were spent to stabilize soils and reduce the potential for further destruction from floods and erosion, according to the press release.

Ten years later in 2012, the Forest Service planted over 400,000 tree seedlings. Now ten more years later, Forest Service volunteers will be planting even more. However, the flames did not only consume decades, even century-old, trees. It also destroyed historic buildings, such as Road’s End Resort, built by Earl Pascoe in the early 1900s that housed hunters, fishermen and many others. It also devastated the natural habitat of wildlife.

“Wildlife, livestock and native vegetation were trapped in the flame, killing them and leaving landscapes severely changed for future decades,” the press release stated. “Over 73,000 acres burned at high or moderate severity, leaving denuded and unstable soils vulnerable to erosion and contributing to the potential for downstream flooding.”

Start typing and press Enter to search