Long before any local Wine Country existed, the rolling hills and wild oak grasslands of the Central Coast of California were home to cattle grazing and food-producing farmlands. These native oak grasslands are also home to rich ecosytems full of native plants and animals, a wonderful biodiversity of life. Of all the beautiful trees, bushes and flowers in our region, the majestic oak tree may be the most important.
Although trees in general provide ecological strength, in many ways the oak tree is our key local species. They are good indicators of ecosystem health. Among other things, they slow precious raindrops before they bounce off of sun-hardend ground so water is more easily absorbed into the soil and aquifer, their expansive root systems support healthy soil microbiomes, retain water and hold back erosion, their trunks and branches provide shade, shelter, food and homes to other plants and animals, and they absorb high levels of carbon from the atmosphere.
We know that without lots and lots of healthy trees, our county, our state, our country and our world will have a very hard time meeting sustainable climate management, water and ecosystem regeneration objectives, no matter what technology exists and no matter what carbon marketplaces, funding instruments or policies are implemented.
We also know that just planting trees in the extreme weather conditions of the Central Coast, with no follow up support from their human stewards, will result in a high and costly tree fatality rate. Long-lived, slow growing trees like our oaks need at least 3 to 5 years of care from us before they are established enough to take care of us.
The Oak Grasslands Restoration Project intends to plant and care for 11 oak tree planting sites and almost 1,000 native oak trees in the central valley of Restoration Oaks Ranch. Oak Planting Site 1, when completed, will also feature a wildlife watering trough and guest hide for overnight guided nature hikes, wildlife & bird-watching retreats.
The questions we are attempting to answer include the following:
- Can we plant slow-growing oak trees in remote areas and reasonably expect 80% or more of them to survive the 6 to 8 years needed for them to firmly establish themselves?
- What tools and practices can we utilize to cost-effectively manage the planting and care of native oak trees on both private and public lands without access to civil services like water, gas and electricity?
- Will managed oak tree plantings have a measurable effect on the watersheds and aquifer of Restoration Oaks Ranch? How soon?
- Will managed oak tree plantings increase the biodiversity of life above ground? Below ground? How soon?
- Will the shade, increased biodiversity and plant guilds of managed oak tree plantings support the restoration of native grasses and significantly increase forage availability for grazing cattle?
- Will managed oak tree plantings extend the grass growing season? How much? How soon?
- Can larger scale managed oak tree plantings cost-effectively help Santa Barbara County achieve its climate, food security and agricultural preservation goals?
Contact Ed Seaman if you have questions about the Worm Farm project, the Oak Grasslands Restoration project, our Carbon Farming blueprint or related events and activities on Restoration Oaks Ranch.