By John Lindsey
SAN LUIS OBISPO COUNTY — On a clear and blustery day along the Pacific Coast Highway, a group of PG&E volunteers gathered at Hearst San Simeon State Park to help restore future groves of Monterey pine trees. The blue of their T-shirts matched the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean that resembles the Caribbean Sea on this part of the coast.
Wearing a brown T-shirt and blue jeans, Rick Hawley, the executive director of Greenspace — The Cambria Land Trust, welcomed the PG&E employees and gave the instructions on how to transplant Monterey pine seedlings to larger pots at their greenhouse facility. These trees will be strategically planted in the Cambria area to re-invigorate a forest that is under stress.
“Giving a voice to the natural features and critters that aren’t able to speak for themselves has given me great satisfaction,” said Hawley, who has led this non-profit organization for 26 years.
The group has accomplished a lot, including gathering and preserving one of the largest and diverse Monterey pine seed collections found anywhere in order to continue forest habitat restoration projects.
“I was amazed to see the number of PG&E volunteers who showed up at the Greenspace greenhouse and how quickly they worked,” Hawley said. The event took place on Friday (May 9).
The greenhouse was constructed with the help of a previous PG&E grant.
The Monterey Pine is native to just five areas: the Año Nuevo State Park area (San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties); Monterey (in Monterey County); Cambria (in San Luis Obispo County); and on Guadalupe and Cedros Islands off Baja California in Mexico.
Normally, the climate in these locations is quite mild with relatively warm winters and mild summers. However, when the weather does heat up something special can occur. You see, the Monterey pine is a “California closed-cone pine,” which means it needs a fire or very hot weather to open and drop its seeds. When the temperature gets very hot, the trees emits an eerie cracking sound, like bacon frying in a pan, as the pine cones open and their seeds rotate like small helicopters to the ground. They are the fastest growing pine trees in the world but only have a lifespan of about 80 years.
Development, the ongoing drought and climate change have reduced the numbers of these trees.
“I’ve noticed a marked decrease over the years in the amount of fog along the coastline. It’s astounding how much water this provides to plants as the fog condenses on these trees and drips to the ground.” Hawley said.
Joe Stewart, a PG&E senior program manager in vegetation management, planned this volunteer event.
“In addition to maintaining vegetation clearances and keeping the public safe, I have opportunities like this to give back to the community, as well as contribute to a sustainable environment,” he said.
This partnership between Greenspace and PG&E will hopefully allow future generations to hear the snap, crackle and pop of the Monterey pine.