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A rapidly melting ice sheet in Greenland. Unprecedented flooding in northern England. A record wildfire season in the western United States.

The most recent headlines involving climate change can turn even the most optimistic environmentalist into a Debbie Downer. But on Friday, more than 50 volunteers set out to do their small part in trying to curb global warming by planting 1,300 redwood seedlings on property in the hills north of Cazadero.

The annual event, which has been conducted by Forest Unlimited since 1997, will continue Saturday on private property in the Gualala Ranch Association area near the south fork of the Gualala River. Over the past 19 years, the Forestville nonprofit group has planted about 28,000 trees around Sonoma County.

The native redwoods are an optimal tree to plant along the Sonoma Coast. They are hard to burn, an asset during wildfire season, and they can resist drought. Coastal fog can provide up to 40 percent of a redwood’s water needs as it condenses into precipitation on its needles, according to one study.

Old redwood forests also sequester three times more carbon above the ground than other trees, according to the Redwoods and Climate Change Initiative. The initiative found that two mature redwoods can remove about 1,600 tons of carbon from the earth’s atmosphere, equaling how much an average American produces in their lifetime through carbon dioxide emissions.

“Forests provide us with oxygen. They sequester carbon. They provide us clean water. They provide us materials for our living,” volunteer James Haug of Sebastopol said.

For Haug, the effort is more than a one-day event.

“For me, going into this project is a direct way to combat global warming. I don’t have to ask anybody; just do it,” said Haug, 57, who is going back to college next week at Humboldt State University to obtain a degree from its forestry program. He used to operate the Wine Emporium in Sebastopol.

The effort was also beneficial for Matt Flores, who owns the 40-acre property. Volunteers planted about 400 redwood seedlings — at locations marked beforehand with small orange flags — on his land, which features a nearby creek that flows into the south fork of the Gualala River.

Flores has been working with Cal Fire on forest management practices for his property, especially on removing tanoaks dying as a result of sudden oak death, which could be a major fire hazard. The redwood’s bark, which contains a high tannin content, and its tall canopy makes the tree much more fire resistant than others.

After last year’s Valley fire in Lake County, fire prevention was on the mind of Flores and his neighbors. His property is located in the same area of the 1978 Creighton Ridge Fire, which burned more than 11,000 acres of timberland and destroyed 64 homes.

“I really want to use this opportunity to get redwoods in and have the tanoaks nurse them in,” said Flores, who lives in San Francisco. “I want to preserve this creek, which is a great asset in keeping the south fork healthy and flowing.”

While logging has greatly decreased in the county, neighbors said they are concerned with any potential nearby development, especially from vintners who would love to plant vineyards to sell profitable Sonoma Coast pinot noir.

“All the vineyards in west county, they have all this development,” Flores said. “This side, at least, it’s politically untenable to ever have it. When I bought the place, the one thing the woman whom I bought from said, ‘You’re not going to put in grapes.’ ”

Forest Unlimited has had great success in its planting project, as 80 to 90 percent of the seedlings have been able to survive into mature trees, said Carl Wahl, reforestation program co-manager. The timber industry typically has a much lower percentage rate.

“Currently, our planet is losing about 15 billion trees every year,” Wahl said. “Hopefully in 2,000 years, we’ll know how to manage our environment better so we don’t have to rely on this (replanting).”

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 521-5223 or bill.swindell@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @BillSwindell.

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