Tree planting spruces up Autumn Hills

GENOA - An unlikely mix of neighbors, U.S. Forest Service workers, convicts and horses took to the Autumn Hills in western Douglas County to plant about 3,000 trees.

The massive planting stems from a project started by a husband a wife team who were attempting to rejuvenate the burnt hills behind their house.

"What we were asking for was just a conservatorship," Autumn Hills-resident Nick Koropchak said Tuesday. "As it turns out, the forest service is going to cover the cost."

The 4,000-acre fire, accidentally started in June 1996 by two boys, destroyed four houses and burnt a section of the Toiyabe National Forest behind the home of Koropchak and his wife, Joyce.

Afterward, they attempted to plant about 100 seedlings and build a drip system with a large water tank on the hill. Their work was interrupted by a forest service notice thanking them for their close to 1,000 hours and $2,500 investment, but also asking them to remove the hoses from public land.

When Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev., intervened last fall, Koropchak said the forest service changed its course and decided to work with him, using government resources to make the project less daunting.

"Since then, the partnership has worked beautifully," he said.

Tuesday, workers gathered at the base of the hill with Ponderosa pine, Jeffrey pine and mahogany seedlings, horses and digging tools. An inmate work crew was brought in from Stewart Camp.

In packs strapped to the horse's sides, the seedlings were brought from the back of cargo truck up to their future sites.

Roland Shaw, a supervisory forester with the forest service, said it was hoped the project, scheduled to be finished today, would have a high success rate. With the right conditions, he said, a 90 percent survival is not uncommon.

"We collect the seeds from areas where we think we will need them ahead of time," he said. "When they grow they are in their natural environment."

According to Shaw, the forest service closely monitors the trees' progress with a first-, third- and fifth-year survival check. Tuesday's plantings, he said, were perfectly timed. Moisture and the cool air help the plants start well.

Shaw added that the project is being funded by a $6,000 "global relief fund" given by a private group called American Forests.

A similar planting project took place in the hills adjacent to the public land above the Koropchak's house. Minden industrialist Don Bently, who owns the land, has planted several thousand trees with a similar drip system.

Mike Dondero, a forest service fire management officer, said that without the plantings the regrowth process would naturally take many years.

"It's a great partnership with the community," Shaw said.


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