Cambria exists in a Monterey pine forest. It’s one of only three natural remaining forests of this keystone species on the mainland, but it’s struggling. A new idea, neonative forests, could help the forest survive and flourish, as the pines have done over the millennia.
“Neonative” forests are human-assisted sites in which naturally occurring native species such as Monterey pine can be expanded and restored. The Monterey pine forest has expanded and retreated over the ages, as climatic conditions have changed. Hemmed in now by rangeland and residential development, they are limited in where they can naturally respond. We can help the trees by directing them to new, suitable locations.
Their towering canopy shelters the rest of the forest system — all the shrubs, birds, wildlife and other plants that make Cambria’s setting unique. Cambria’s holds the genetic diversity that is the foundation of healthy ecosystems and a resource for the thriving global lumber industry that raises them in planted forests.
“Californians on the Central Coast are the principal custodians of the genetic reservoir that has created this international wood products resource,” according to the Monterey Pine Forest Watch, authors of “California’s Living Legacy: The Monterey Pine Forest.”
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Trees could be planted in locations that may or may not have been forests in the documented past, but can be in the future. State grants to offset greenhouse gas emissions are available to fund tree planting. Trees reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and are included in several Cal Fire grant programs for urban and community forests, reforestation and forest legacy.
Cal Fire has five strategies to reduce greenhouse gases and slow climate change by protecting and managing our forests:
• Reforestation to sequester more carbon.
• Forestland conservation to avoid forest loss to development.
• Fuels reduction to reduce wildfire emissions and utilization of those materials for renewable energy.
• Urban forestry to reduce energy demand through shading, increase sequestration, and contribute biomass for energy generation.
• Improved management to increase carbon sequestration benefits and protect forest health.
Several locations around town are suitable. Others can be evaluated. Greenspace executive director Rick Hawley points to the Williams Reserve, a
107-acre parcel along Santa Rosa Creek Road, now owned by the California Department of Fish & Wildlife. About 30 acres of that land could become a neonative Monterey pine forest. It was cleared by cattle grazing, but without the cows to eat plants, it’s filling with forbs and other short vegetation.
“That could be a forest,” Hawley said.
Other privately owned land could be eligible for protection as conservation easements, for which Cal Fire also has grant funding available.
All California’s forests are important. Cambria’s Monterey pines are a signature Cambrian symbol, their graceful silhouette against the sky welcoming both resident and visitor. The forest captures moisture from the fog to water itself and keeps Cambria cool and green. It’s a repository of genetic diversity for the world. Neonative forests can help Cambria’s Monterey pine forest thrive into the future.