Sierra Summit

Conversations and observations about California's mountains

September 8, 2009
A modern-day Johnny Appleseed
Tree-planting is popular these days but few people know more about it - or do more of it - than Mike Landram, regional silvaculturist for the Forest Service in California. 

Today, Mike is being award the John R. McGuire Award - named for the former Forest Service Chief who helped draft the National Forest Management Act - for his efforts to replant large patches of California forests burned by increasingly high severity wildfire, including the 2007 Moonlight fire in the northern Sierra.

Tree planters don't get enough kudos. They are the care takers of tomorrow, custodians of the forests that your children's children will enjoy later this century or early next. But restoring forests in an era of climate change is not simple. Late last year, I talked to Mike about some of the challenges - and during our conversation his passion for reforestation was clear. Here is some of what he told me:

"I think the Forest Service has a fundamental obligation to keep forest land forested. Aren't these forests in a public trust because they're forests?"

"The thing I worry about most are the big, burned out patches. They are not characteristic in an evolutionary sense...."

Because such fires inflict so much damage, tree-planting efforts are critical, he said. Nature needs an assist. But as temperatures rise, planting strategies need to change.   "The good news is that most of these planted trees are reasonably able to adapt to changing conditions once they get established. But if we think the temperature is going to increase six degrees - and we know the place we are working is already at the warmest edge of where it will grow - don't bother to plant it."

Instead, plant what you expect to grow there in the future. "We call that assisted migration," he said. "That is something the reasearch community is aimed at trying to help us to do."

Change is inevitable.  Forests today don't look like they did during the Gold Rush. "We can rest comfortable that the future will be different than today," Landram said.

But the important thing, he said, is to do something.... to plant a tree. "We as a society usually want to focus on the controversy of the day - not on the kind of forest we are going to create for future generations. And we lose focus on what kind of legacy we are leaving the next generation." 

To read more about Mike and his award from the National Association of Forest Service Retirees, click on this link:

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About Sierra Summit

The Author
Tom Knudson lives in the Sierra Nevada and travels widely throughout the range. His hobbies include fly-fishing, backpacking and cross-country skiing. He is the recipient of numerous journalistic awards, including two Pulitzer Prizes, one for a 1992 Sacramento Bee series "Sierra in Peril," a watershed work about environmental threats to the mountain range. E-mail Tom at

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