New Life Takes Root at Big Creek

Nearly two years after the Creek Fire, a community gathers to plant new trees, helping the Sierra National Forest recover faster and stronger.
Jul 6, 2022 9:15 AM ET

By Gabriela Ornelas Energized by Edison Writer

For the residents of Big Creek, the Sierra National Forest isn’t simply the place they call home; the old, towering trees are living, breathing beings embedded into the fabric of the tight-knit community. Sadly, the 2020 Creek Fire burned nearly 380,000 acres in Big Creek Canyon. But as any mountain resident will tell you, part of what makes the forest so resilient is its ability to heal over time.

“The forest will plant itself on its own as long as it has a seed source. If we help it out, we can get it back to maturity faster,” said Don Dukleth, SCE senior utility forester and arborist. “The forest needs a lot of help after a 380,000-acre fire.”

For the past year and a half, the Big Creek community has been on a steadfast course to help the forest recover from one of the largest wildfires in California’s recorded history. While reforestation efforts are ongoing, Southern California Edison, the U.S. Forest Service and the Big Creek Elementary School District recently joined forces, encouraged by a mutual desire to help restore the forest to its former glory.

“SCE reached out to us about doing a collaborative event with the U.S. Forest Service. Big Creek Elementary School reached out to us on a separate occasion, wanting to know if we’re available to teach the kids how to plant trees. I brought up the idea of combining those efforts so that we could do a multi-agency event at once,” said Olivia Roe, a forester with the U.S. Forest Service.

The three entities coordinated a joint reforestation event, gathering supplies and volunteers to help. While planting conditions typically peak in April, late seasonal snow extended the window, leading to the fortunate timing of the event: April 29 or Arbor Day.

“We’re doing our part to keep the trees growing back so that we foster an environment for happy bio-life, humans and everything else,” said Dukleth.

Arborists, foresters, volunteers and schoolchildren planted 1,000 native Ponderosa pine and sugar pine seedlings, contributed by SCE and the U.S Forest Service. After a planting tutorial by the U.S Forest Service and a safety discussion by SCE, the adults took charge of the planting equipment while the children carefully placed the trees in each hole.

“It was really neat seeing them get involved in planting the trees, wanting to dig the holes, interested in best practices and how they should be doing it,” said Marc Jones, SCE Vegetation Management advisor. “Many of the kids lost their homes in the Creek Fire, so to be able to help them put trees in the ground was very special.”

Each seedling was strategically placed 20 feet from existing trees to give them the greatest chance for survival. Once planted, they grow undisturbed by consuming water and nutrients from the earth, with the healthiest seedlings reaching over 100-feet tall and living for 300 years or more.

“Everything in the forest is alive, and they’re a part of us, and we’re a part of them,” Jones said. “Everybody needs that connection with nature, and we can be a part of it sustainably.”

Along with the new trees, the new partnership is planning an annual tree planting event in other areas of the Sierra National Forest.

“I hope we can continue to do this in the coming years and make it bigger each year,” said Roe. “By doing it, we do things right by reforestation and get a lot more trees planted where they need to go.”

For more information about SCE's wildfire safety efforts, visit