Stephani Smith: Helping restore California’s forests one seed at a time

Written by Stephani Smith, SNAP member with the US Forest Service Placerville Nursery and American Forests

January 19, 2024

The Sierra Nevada AmeriCorps Partnership (SNAP) program provides an opportunity for budding environmental leaders, activists, and scientists. The partnership between the Sierra Nevada Alliance and AmeriCorps is a formidable solution to help post-graduates, or people interested in a new career opportunity, get a foot in the door.

After graduating from CSU Monterey Bay in 2018, I’ve had a lot of fun job opportunities working directly with my communities and local ecology! My love for nature is what drives my desire to learn as much as I can about ecological health, sustainability and equity. In November of 2023, I applied for and was accepted into the SNAP program to work at the host site USFS Placerville Nursery! Baby trees… sign me up!

The Placerville Nursery grows conifer seedlings for various National Forests and RCD’s in California. Cone collectors from all across the state bring in cones from their seed zones for seed extraction. Once the seeds are extracted, we sow them in the spring months then monitor and grow seedlings in the summer months. Once the trees reach a desirable size for outcropping we pack them in the winter months for their respected forests. In addition to container and bare-root agriculture, the nursery has a seed bank, seed lab and genetics department. Recently, the seed lab technicians and geneticists have implemented climate adaptive solutions for outcropping by diligently shifting tree planting locations.

My duties range from supportive physical labor roles (especially during the busy season of winter) to data analysis and compilations. Categorically, my role at the nursery is to:

  • Work on a cutting-edge climate-smart reforestation need for California – helping to determine gaps in the state’s seed bank
  • Support the work of American Forests’ California Reforestation Pipeline Partnership Manager on their work to develop California’s Seed Strategy
  • Transfer information from hard paper copies of seed lot information (cone handler’s checklist) into an excel spreadsheet to update and fill gaps in the seed bank inventory
  • Communicate findings and analysis with the U.S. Forest Service Placerville Nursery Manager, Regional Seed Procurement Manager and American Forests California Reforestation Pipeline Cooperative Manager
  • Support cone and/or seed processing, seedling handling, and other assorted nursery operations and maintenance tasks

So far, working at the Placerville Nursery has exceeded my expectations. Everyday I learn something new about nursery operations and plant science. I get the opportunity to work alongside innovators and leaders in the field and exercise my knowledge and expertise in varying capacities. I enjoy being a part of something larger than myself; supporting the Reforestation Pipeline has given me a sense of purpose and curiosity.

To my delight, I’ve discovered forest management is an elastic landscape currently shifting in favor of sustainable forest management, indigenous knowledge integration and socio-economic equity. I am grateful this is where I got my foot in the door so I can continue pursuing my overall goal of being an environmental advocate and leader.

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