Forest Unlimited’s volunteer tree planting projects seek to heal woodland properties

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Nature lovers looking to kick off 2015 with a good deed might consider volunteering next weekend to plant redwood seedlings for Forest Unlimited’s annual reforestation project.

The Forestville-based nonprofit organization is dedicated to protecting and enhancing forests and watersheds in Sonoma County. In addition to acting as a sort of watchdog for local logging operations, its members have been organizing tree plantings at select locations around Sonoma County for the past 17 years.

This year, the group will plant about 1,150 redwood seedlings Saturday and next Sunday — Jan. 9 and 10 — at Wildwood Retreat Center in the hills above Guerneville.

“It’s really a community effort,” said Carl Wahl, a volunteer with Forest Unlimited who has co-managed the project since 2001.

Wahl said Forest Unlimited tries to choose areas that are protected from development and logging by conservation easements, so that volunteers aren’t planting trees that “could be cut down in 40 years.” They also look for places where the redwoods and oaks they plant will thrive.

“We don’t just plant pell mell,” Wahl said. “We make sure the seedlings are planted in a location where they can basically survive unattended by humans.”

Over the years, Forest Unlimited has organized plantings at private properties off Coleman Valley Road, at Graton’s wastewater treatment plant, at Santa Rosa Junior College’s Shone Farm and, most recently, at St. Dorothy’s Rest, an Episcopal retreat in Camp Meeker.

In total, the group has installed more than 25,000 trees around the county.

Starting on Saturday, they’ll be at Wildwood, a protected 210-acre retreat center for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. Much of the land on the property has been logged in the past, Wahl said. The redwood planting will help reforest certain areas and prevent erosion on the property’s steep hillsides.

The organization needs about 50 volunteers each day to accomplish the task. They had about 30 signed up for each day last week.

Over the past decade or so, about 20 students from a Santa Rosa Junior College tree-planting class have pitched in both days, but this year the class isn’t being held, Wahl said. Now, he’s hoping to recruit enough additional volunteers to make up the difference.

Volunteers will be busy from about 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on one or both days, helping to dig holes for the 2-foot seedlings and tucking them into the dirt.

All supplies will be provided, as will a free, warm meal catered by The Pasta King and paid for by the foundation that runs Wildwood.

Cazadero resident Ricky Kellar has been volunteering with his family at the plantings for about seven years. He said his daughter, 13, and son, 9, look forward to it each year.

“They like the experience of planting trees, going about it the right way, feeling a sense of accomplishment,” he said. “It’s also nice doing a good thing with a lot of people. There’s a nice community element to it.”

To sign up, email Wahl by Tuesday at carlwahl3@gmail.com or call him at 874-9268.

Staff Writer Jamie Hansen blogs about education at extracredit.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach her at 521-5205 or jamie.hansen@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @jamiehansen.

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