Autumn Hills man spearheads replanting effort
Nick Koropchak patrols his yard with a gopher getter in his hands, a dog at his heels and a pack containing water, cookies and a map on his back.
Like any dedicated gardener, he checks the delicate young plants to make sure they’re getting enough water and protection from neighborhood bullies like deer and rodents.
Unlike most gardeners, his chosen plot covers several dozen acres of forest land, and he’s rebuilding it one tree at a time, with the help of Forest Service and volunteer workers.
“I can hardly wait for that three, four, five years to go by and then you can see these from the road,” he says, pointing to one of the 2,500 seedling pines that have been planted on an estimated 30 acres of forest land since the Autumn Hills fire ravaged the hillside in 1996.
Koropchak has become the spokesman for the Carson Valley Reforestation and Beautification Foundation, a non-profit group that has been replanting forest land and also wants to add landscaping along Highway 395.
The forest land effort so far has focused on an 80-acre strip directly behind Koropchak’s Autumn Hills home. Koropchak has installed steps along the trails leading up the steep hillside, and a sophisticated drip system delivers water to the seedlings that dot the slope. He doesn’t know how many feet of drip line have been installed, or how much he’s invested.
“It was kind of a gradual thing,” he said. “We started with one area and just went from there.”
The growth process is slow. Most of the trees are barely a foot tall, and some are hard to discern among the manzanita that is starting to return and the silver skeletons of its incinerated predecessors.
“Some (of the trees) go crazy and some are so darn slow you wouldn’t believe it,” said Koropchak.
He pointed to a scraggly seedling. “Every time I think about tearing him up, he does something.”
Carson Valley residents will soon be able to see for themselves the results of the reforestation work. Roland Shaw, a Forest Service forester who has helped coordinate some of the work, says the coming year should make a difference.
“Nick has really given these trees here a jump start,” he said. “You’ll be able to see them in the next couple of years.”
Shaw said up to 1,500 more seedlings might be planted this spring, depending on availability. He would also like to see mountain mahogany and service berry bushes added to the mix, and he agrees with Koropchak that aspen trees in the gorges would provide a dramatic splash of fall color.
Underrepresented species like sugar pines are also a consideration, said Shaw. He agreed that the burn area is a laboratory of sorts, because the numbers and types of plants can be adjusted to fit the environment.
Both look forward to the day when trees will volunteer to grow instead of depending on volunteers. Until then, volunteer labor is needed to plant the trees. Shaw said planting could be done within a month if warm weather remains and the soil temperatures become hospitable.
Even with volunteer laborers and Forest Service help, funding remains a concern. Koropchak recently asked Douglas County to consider a yearly grant of up to $10,000. He said the reforestation group has collected $2,200 and applied to state, federal and private foundations for money.
County commissioners declined to commit any money, explaining they want assurance the money will be spent locally and efficiently. They suggested Koropchak and his group work with conservation groups that already get county funding, or present the request during annual budget hearings.
Koropchak says he hopes the reforestation group will eventually attract enough money to fund an ongoing effort to replant burned forest land.
“I’m not sure what the county is going to look like to our children and grandchildren 25 or 50 years from now,” he said. “We’re going to get there.”
For information on helping with tree planting efforts, call the Forest Service’s Carson City office at 882-2766