Inside USD

Students Help Turn Blackened State Park Green

Monday, April 6, 2009

blackenedWildfires in 2003 and 2007 burned much of the open space in San Diego County, ranging from suburban canyons to Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. Vanishing along with the trees were wildlife habitat, watershed stability and recreation opportunities. Now University of San Diego students are helping offset some of the environmental devastation.

Trees also are a tremendously important site for carbon sequestration, and massive losses of tree biomass in Cuyamaca released huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. New tree growth would help store carbon and help to offset impacts to global climate change these events have had.

The California Department of Parks and Recreation has begun the reforestation process, but budget constraints are limiting the extent and pace of the project. That’s where USD science faculty and students come in.

Under a partnership with the state, USD classes in conservation biology and ecology are providing post-restoration monitoring by assessing survivorship of the planted seedlings, said USD professor of biology Marie Simovich.

The project “will provide information as to which of several preparations and planting strategies are most effective and should be used on future sites,” she said. USD classes will continue to monitor survival and tree growth over the next several years.

“We are pleased that the USD Biology Department is willing to lend its expertise to help us complete this important project,” said Mike Wells, parks and recreation district superintendent.

“The best part about this project is that it is fun,” said student Elena Kremer. ”We got to be outdoors, in nature and do hands-on field work. You get to see the affect of the fires and really soak in the dramatic impact it had on the area. Being out there and contributing to its restoration is a really neat experience.”

As part of its sustainability mission, faculty and administrators want to create campus initiatives to become more environmentally conscious. “In the Biology Department, we feel it is important to promote a sense of environmental responsibility by active participation in green stewardship projects,” Simovich said.

To fund the projects, the state has allocated $100,000 for project planning and environmental compliance. The Odwalla Juice Company has contributed $21,800 for young trees and more grants are being sought, Simovich said. USD will be involved in these grants by providing pre- and post-restoration site assessments by analyzing mineral content and micro-organism activity in the soil. These activities will be incorporated into other courses such as Plant Physiology, she said.

— Jessica DeFilippo

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