The Wall of Smoke

A wall of smoke from the 2003 Cedar Fire engulfs Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

In the fall of 2003, the Cedar Fire burned over 24,000 acres (>98%) of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. Fire intensity was so great that conifer trees with in the park experienced greater than 95% mortality. The seed bank and cone-producing forest canopy were nearly destroyed resulting in small patchy pockets of naturally regenerating mixed conifer seedlings and saplings.  Post-fire vegetation is dominated by herbs, shrubs and re-sprouting oak species and there is a possibility that without active reforestation, site conversion to shade-intolerant brush and exotic annuals could become permanent. 

A Sugar Pine Before the Fire

A Sugar Pine Before the Fire

Sugar Pine after

The Same Sugar PIne After the Fire

Restored coniferous forest habitat in the park will provide important protected areas for a wide variety of native mammal and bird species. Conifer forest has become a vanishing habitat in San Diego County. Between 2002 and 2007, over 51% of the montane Mixed Conifer Forest in San Diego County was destroyed by wildfire. The Mixed Conifer Forest at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park prior to the Cedar Fire represented a significant portion (around 20%) of the Mixed Conifer Forest habitat in the county. Coniferous forest habitat is critical to forest dwelling species such as the red-breasted sapsucker, red-breasted nuthatch, and golden-crowned kinglet.

In 2007, the Colorado Desert District of California State Parks initiated a mixed conifer forest restoration project to re-establish native conifer trees at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. The project consists of planting 2,530 acres of former forest lands in a mosaic of patches that will become centers for seed dispersal, and are expected to restore the larger conifer forest. Initial seedling densities and ongoing forest management practices are expected to reduce the future chance of catastrophic, habitat type-conversion wildfires.

Project activities started in fall of 2007 with planning, mapping and site preparation by California State Parks and CAL FIRE employees for two pilot planting areas. Through February of 2013, 1,200 acres have been planted with approximately 350,000 mixed conifer seedlings. Planting takes place during January and February of each year because these months provide the weather conditions which are most favorable for seedling establishment and survival in Southern California’s arid mountainous region.

The project uses 100% native species with a composition of species based on historical species surveys. The overall target mix is 65% Jeffrey pine (Pinus jeffreyi), 15% Coulter pine (Pinus coulteri), 8% sugar pine (Pinus lambertiana), 5% incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens), and 7% white fir (Abies concolor).

The project team completes a two to three year sequence of tasks prior to planting. These tasks include seed collection, site selection, botanical, avian and archaeological surveys, seedling procurement, site preparation, seedling delivery and storage, planting, seedling protection, and monitoring.

Join us as we work to restore a healthy forest ecosystem to Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. Donations to support the project can be made through a link on the California State Parks Foundation web site:

The Forest Returns

The Forest Returns