MONTECITO, Calif. — Westmont College Assistant Professor of Biology Laura Drake Schultheis led an effort to plant about 45 native coast live oak trees in the same area where the Montecito Tea Fire rushed through in November of 2008, which destroyed over 200 homes.
“A student who is out the other day planting and and he was saying, ‘Okay, little tree, good luck. You're my tree. I'm rooting for you,' you know. And when you plant a tree, you actually have a connection with it. And that's a really special thing. And so when students walk by here and feel a connection to it, I think that's just such an important aspect of the project and something we really love to see as educators,” said Schultheis.
The professor led this project around the 15 year anniversary of the Tea Fire, Nov. 13.
“It hits close to home to a lot of the community in Los Bronchus because many of these professors lost their homes in the fire. And so when they walk by and they see the restoration taking place and the oak trees coming back…it brings healing for them. I think it brings connection for them,” said Schultheis.
Environmental experts said replacing the former non-native eucalyptus trees with these oak trees will reduce the risk of future fires.
“This is what we're going to be doing all over the planet in coming decades. You know, all the fires are everywhere. The floods are everywhere. We're going to be doing a lot more of this. But it heartens me to see the people want to learn,” said master arborist Dave Muffly.
Experts said this will also contribute to greater biodiversity in the area.
“One of the biology professors, Dr. Beth Horvath, shared that when she used to walk down from her house onto campus, she used to see a bobcat here often, but she hasn't seen it for many years. And so we're hoping that this will bring back the bobcat as well,” said Westmont Sustainability Coordinator and Garden Manager Janell Balmaceda.
The project has been fully funded by the Regional Wildfire Mitigation Program.