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Efforts to restore Santa Monica Mountains vegetation burned by Woolsey Fire hits 50,000 plants

Lance Orozco
National Park Service Restoration Ecologist Joey Algiers with actress and philanthropist Jane Seymour, as she plants the 50,000th plant (a coastal live oak tree) as part of restoration efforts to wildfire damage in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

Actress, philanthropist Jane Seymour plants milestone tree: the goal is to plant a total of 100,000 plants over a two-year period.

Andrew Oliver is down on his hands and knees, using a garden trowel to pat dirt around a tiny plant. He’s one of about 50 volunteers planting trees and plants in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation area.

"It is a good way to make the world a little bit of a better place," said Oliver. "What else would I be doing... sitting around and having a lazy breakfast?"

They’re trying to give nature a helping hand in recovery from the disastrous 2018 Woolsey wildfire. It burned nearly 100,000 acres of land.

Now, an ambitious restoration plan to plant 100,000 plants and trees over two years has reached the halfway point. Actress and philanthropist Jane Seymour was at the Paramount Ranch to plant the 50,000th plant, a coastal oak tree.

"How awful would it be if I planted it at an angle, and then we had this giant oak, and hundreds of years from now, they say the one that's going that way... Jane put it in the ground wrong," Seymour joked. "I got to make sure I've done it right."

After she finished planting the tree, Seymour gave it a little pep talk.

"Live, thrive, enjoy this amazing national park," she said.

The restoration project is the most ambitious effort in the history of the National Recreation Area. They are trying to plant 100,000 plants over a two year period, so the planting by Seymour officially marks the halfway point.

Joey Algiers is a restoration ecologist with the National Park Service. He says while the coastal oak trees are among the most iconic things being planted, they are actually putting in a wide range of vegetation.

"We have about 25 different species... 5000 trees... we're planting 45,000 shrubs and grasses," said Algiers. "We're trying to create a whole native community. It's a pretty comprehensive project."

The restoration project is largely fueled by volunteers. Trina Pitchford is with the Open Hearts Foundation, which has helped organize planting days. The foundation was created by Seymour.

"It's the idea that everyone can do something to help, whether its planting a tree, or calling a neighbor, or giving blood," said Pitchford.

Volunteers with the Open Hearts Foundation planting trees and other vegetation in the Santa Monica Mountains, to replace plants lost to the 2018 Woolsey wildfire.

Katy Flynn is not only part of the foundation, she is Seymour's daughter.

"One of my favorite things about volunteering here is that it's a really great family experience," said Flynn. "There's not that many opportunities that we've found that are family-friendly."

But, the restoration effort isn’t just about the trees, and plants. Planning has been underway to rebuild the Paramount Ranch’s historic movie and TV sets, which were destroyed by the Woolsey Fire. Seymour shot seven seasons of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman at the ranch’s Western sets.

"We would all bring our kids here, or dogs here... we would work, but we were a family," said Seymour. "The first time I came here (after the fire) it was devastating... I just wanted to cry."

But, rebuilding could start later this year. Amber Gereghty is with the Santa Monica Mountains Fund, the non-profit which has helped raise money for what will be a multi-million dollar effort. She said they've held a series of community fundraisers ranging from runs to drive-in movies.

Ana Cholo, with the National Park Service, talks about the timeline.

"We have completed the environmental assessment portion of the project, and so what will happen next is we'll put the project out to bid," said Cholo. "Hopefully, construction will begin by the end of the year."

The goal is to complete the set rebuilding project by late 2023.

As for the tree and plant restoration, that’s something which will take decades. But, those involved by the effort say they are encouraged by a survival rate for the new vegetation topping 80%.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.