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The Forest Recovery Project documents the natural recovery of the Angeles National Forest from the Station Fire in color images. An effort that began as the embers cooled in the autumn of 2009, the Forest Recovery Project blurs the boundaries of art and science, blending modern forestry theory and indigenous wisdom with the goal of restoring a bit of our understanding of the natural world that we have lost by becoming "civilized".

Fire is an integral part of the long term health of natural ecosystems. It can be suppressed for long periods of time, but not forever. When fire returns to a region from which it has been suppressed, it can be catastrophic, fed by fifty, sixty or a hundred years of fuel build-up. In the wake of the Station Fire, the largest in the history of Los Angeles County, recovery began as soon as the ground cooled. In order to allow the natural recovery to take place, many areas were closed to the public, so most people were unaware of the vigorous rebound of life. The Forest Recovery Project chronicles that rebound.

The Forest Recovery Project is more than a collection of images. In the process of documenting the forest's recovery, important discoveries and observations were made, particularly with regard to the critical role of the fire follower known as Poodle Dog Bush. This poisonous plant had little more than a bad reputation, but it is in fact a vital companion plant to conifer seedlings and has a less understood relationship with oak tree species. Much of what we knew about Poodle Dog Bush - even its accepted latin name - was inaccurate. Through the Forest Recovery Project, an entirely different awareness of this species is emerging.

The success rate of naturally occurring tree seedlings versus nursery raised, hand planted seedlings and the need for aftercare also became overwhelmingly evident in the documentary process. How we approach reforestation needs to be completely reconsidered if it is to be a viable practice in this primarily arid landscape. Additionally, the practice of "release" or denuding a wide circle of vegetation around tree seedlings has been repeatedly documented as an unsuitable management method. It leaves tree seedlings exposed to excessive sunlight and soil dehydration. Nothing in nature exists alone. Complex symbiosis occurs between all living things, from a molecular to a structural level.

Increasingly, the documentary process has been affected by another powerful landscape altering force - epic drought. Whole stands of trees that either survived or escaped the fire now fall due to lack of water, and he insect infestations that occur in response to stressed environments.

Powerpoint-style presentations of the Forest Recovery Project are given throughout southern California and occasionally beyond on a donation basis. The full archive of images is available on SmugMug, a professional photography site. Spanning a range of approximately 75 miles and all the major forest biomes, the documentary work is time, money and labor intensive, and has been funded entirely through donations from individuals and charitable foundations. The Forest Recovery Project has a Facebook group, and a ten minute version of the presentation can be found on the US Forest Service website.

Please contact us (email is best at redbirds_vision@hotmail.com) to schedule a presentation for your group or class. Click here to learn about The Pinon Project

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