Caring for the Oaks

In 2018, 50 oak trees were planted at Trippet Ranch Oak at Topanga State Park. Since then, 200 plants have been added. 

Although the park wasn’t impacted by the Woolsey Fire in 2018, Jelly Kahler, the education and communications specialist for the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains, said it was recently impacted with the Palisades Fire in 2021. 

“There were some impacts here, but we did have a fire that burned,” Kahler said. “You’ll see remnants of it right on the other side of this hill, and it basically came right up to where we have some of our planting sites.”

As a member of the Watershed Steward Program, Kahler said they were required to host a volunteer event as part of service.

“During the rainy season, it’ll just be once a month, but when it’s dry, we try twice a month,” she said. “We also have an ‘Adopt a Baby Oak Program,’ which you’ll see signs around at Trip Ranch and the parking lot up at the Trailhead here. Those are for people who hike this area often.”

Since the wake of the global pandemic, monthly volunteer events have had to be put on hold. Newly planted oaks rely on regular volunteer events to survive and become established in their beginning years of growth. RCD’s Research and Restoration team came up with an innovative approach to ensuring the continued survival of this vital species: The Adopt a Baby Oak Program, which would care for the 250 young saplings planted at Trippet Ranch.

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“We planted about 50 oak plants in 2018 down near the parking lot of Trippet Ranch and those spots were advised by state parks,” Kahler said. “They basically told us where we should plant so that these baby oaks can take the place of the oaks that you see all around you, and once those oaks started to kind of grow and that project looked successful, we decided to expand the project and have since planted about another 200.”

The RCD launched this program in hopes of recruiting volunteers to help care for those trees most easily accessible in the park. Baby oak trees ideally receive 5 gallons of water a month, but in the dry summer, any water helps. By bringing an extra liter once a week while on a hike has been an invaluable service to these oaks.

“We also track trees. So you’ll see some grown oak trees with oak tags on them, and we come through and actually do tree surveys and monitor the health of those as a part of the projects,” Kahler said. “The fire came right up near those trees, thankfully nothing that we planted burned.”

On April 23, around 15 volunteers helped care for the oak plants by watering and checking for invasive species.

Upon volunteers, a group of nearly a dozen Thrive Market employees spent a Saturday at the Oak Care event. Thrive Market is an online retail of national organic products and their mission is to make sustainable living easy and simple. 

Thrive Market Senior Manager of Mission Kristin DeSimone said volunteering is a great way for their group to give back to the community.

“They’re checking the tree’s health, taking down data, watering and ripping out any invasive species,” DeSimone said. “This is our second time (volunteering) our first was right before COVID hit, it’s a great way for our employees to get out and bond and be in nature.”

Kahler said the volunteer turnout was greatly appreciated.

“It feels amazing, when we shut down during the pandemic and we weren’t doing volunteer events, that was a huge portion of our workforce because we can’t really do these events,” she said. “We’re such a small team, the RCD [Resource Conservation District] — there’s only about five or six of us so having people that are interested in biology that are willing to come out and sacrifice some of their time, means a lot.”

The organization also has a community resilience program which informs homeowners and residents about wildfires and what they can do to prevent fires such as the Community Chipping and Mulch Program and The Home Ignition Zone Evaluation Program (HIZEP). To learn more about the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains, visit rcdsmm.org.

Around 15 volunteers helped care for the oak plants by watering and checking for invasive species on April 23. Photo by Samantha Bravo/TMT.
Samantha Bravo
Samantha Bravo
Samantha Bravo is an inspiring photojournalist based in Los Angeles California. She began her journalism career at Pierce College Media Arts Department. Twitter @samanthavbravo

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