PORTERVILLE, Calif., May 4, 2021— Eighth-grade students Grace Carino, Danny Rodriguez, Sofia Craven, and Ashea Lucero from Summit Charter Intermediate Academy (SCIA) recently planted nearly 100 seedlings in the Sequoia National Forest.

According to Grace Carino, part of the school curriculum included an International Baccalaureate (IB) community project to help or better the community. “It is a very important school project for eighth-grade students and is focused on during the majority of our school year,” Grace stated. “When first informed about the required project, my friends and I knew exactly what we wanted to do, focus our project on helping the environment.”

With a shared interest in global warming, pollution, and climate change, the students began researching and brainstorming ideas during the height of California’s historic 2020 wildfire attack. The team investigated how the loss of trees due to drought, insects, and wildfires can affect a community and decided on planting trees. “We contacted a lot of people throughout this project, including tree nurseries, firefighters, district rangers, vegetation program managers, and more. Our research was pretty extensive, and this is how we eventually met Marianne Emmendorfer,” Grace explained.

Marianne, a Silviculturist with the Sequoia National Forest’s Hume Lake Ranger District, described the Eshom Ecological Restoration project near Dunlap, CA., to the team. The project includes planting tree seedlings where drought and insect-caused tree mortality reduced trees below acceptable levels.

Regarding the Eshom project, Marianne explained that the 2014-2018 drought and the subsequent spike in insect populations caused massive dieback in conifers in the area. “The drought is one indicator of potential changes in climate that can greatly affect growing conditions. Studies are underway to track various aspects of these changes and potential management opportunities.”

The Eshom project will confront the problem in three ways.

“First, we are planting seedlings at a wider spacing to help the current forest ecosystems to survive or be more resistant to the next drought cycle. In addition, we are working with the staff at our Placerville nurseries to select seeds gathered from slightly lower elevation seed zone for the area.”

“Second, in partnership with Great Basin Institute and the Forest Service, University of Nevada Reno is directing the Sierra Nevada Adaptive Management Experiment (AMEX) study to help develop silvicultural practices in light of climate change.”

“And third, the Regional Forest Genetics program established a Climate Adaptation Monitoring Unit to test the adaptability of sugar pine from southern California seed sources to the Eshom area,” Marianne added.

Before planting the seedlings, Marianne briefed the team of four students and chaperone Mr. Craven on the project and why it was essential to the community and environment. “She talked to us about why we were planting in the area, what kind of trees we were planting, why we were planting this specific kind of tree, the cause of devastation, the conditions that should be met for the trees to survive, and more,” Grace described. “She then demonstrated how we would be planting the seedlings and why. After that, we were all set!”

Marianne provided the students with the proper equipment, and the team went to work. “We quickly got the hang of it, and before we knew it, we planted about 100 seedlings,” she exclaimed. “It felt great to get outside with my friends and plant the seedlings.”

“Originally, eighth-grade students were asked to do this IB community project by themselves because of COVID-19. However, my friends and I reached out to our principal and asked if we could do this project together while still maintaining safety protocols for the coronavirus. Without the four of us working together as a group, this project would have been challenging. It’s very nice to know that we got to help the environment together and make a great memory with the people closest to me.”

The health benefits of being outdoors are well documented and even more critical now with COVID restrictions. “Doing school from home has affected the four of us. I’d say that at times I lacked motivation, and I would get frustrated,” described Grace. “Getting to do this with friends was very important. Even though we had our masks on, I could tell that we were all smiling and very happy to have each other’s company when planting the seedlings.”