Community volunteers invited to plant trees across campus

Lacey Raak planting coast live oak trees during the Habitat Restoration and Tree Planting event

Lacey Raak planting coast live oak trees during the Habitat Restoration and Tree Planting event | Photo by Katherine Divas-Juarez

January 10, 2023

By Kera Abraham

On Thursday, Jan. 19, you could do what you usually do – stay hunkered down in the blue light of your computer. But Sustainability Director Lacey Raak has another idea: “Walk away from your desk, connect with your community, take a deep breath, and plant some trees!”

Jan. 19 is the next in a series of events with an ambitious goal: planting 2,030 trees on campus by 2030. Since kicking off the project last year, volunteers have put more than 300 saplings in the ground, and they aim to add about 50 more at each planting event. Those coast live oak trees will one day provide the campus with shade, beauty, wildlife habitat, and carbon sequestration. 

“You can immerse yourself in your community and the natural environment,” Raak says. “You give back, but it fills your cup too.”

Planting trees properly – and keeping them alive – requires planning. Graduate student Filipp Kashirtsev, building on the work of former grad student California Biordi, has been helping by creating GIS (geographic information system) maps. 

Working with his advisor, Fred Watson, Kashirtsev applied imagery from the 1920s and 1930s showing what the landscape looked like before military use or modern development. Much of it was covered with oak woodland and chaparral – primarily coast live oaks, the species the team is now planting.

“We’re not just planting trees anywhere on campus. We’re planting trees where they used to be,” Kashirtsev says.

Other map layers show factors like existing underground infrastructure, planned future development, water access, and demolished building footprints. Raak’s team analyzes the maps to identify the ideal spots for planting.

“I was surprised by just how much work goes into planting trees,” Kashirtsev says. “I thought you go out, you dig a hole, you put a tree in it. But there are so many moving parts.” 

Among those moving parts: propagating the trees, providing supplies, and orchestrating the work days. The nonprofit Habitat Stewardship Project Monterey Bay (formerly Return of the Natives) helps with those tasks.

Annie Jones, a former service learner with the Habitat Stewardship Project, helped organize a planting event by Lot 59 in December. “It was nice to get in the dirt and physically dig a hole,” she says, “to be among these plants and hear everyone idly chatting as they were working.” 

Removing ice plant was the biggest challenge, she says, and a great workout: “If I pulled ice plant for hours I would be so sore! You engage your entire body to pull it out.”

The project is supported by two working groups of the President’s Sustainability Committee: the Habitat Working Group, which provides technical expertise, and the new campus chapter of Nature Rx, which promotes outdoor experiences to boost mental and physical health.

Raak hopes to eventually enhance the effort with an educational component – bringing in speakers to make connections such as the Indigenous uses of native plants. “We have such a unique gift in our location and history of place,” she says. “We often describe our campus as a former military institution and stop there, despite the fact that the history of our land goes back a lot farther.”

Kashirtsev encourages the campus community to join upcoming work days, which he says are a lot of fun. “The more people come out, the more trees we can plant and the faster we can reach our goal,” he says. “Come help plant trees!”

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