Cal Poly students and San Luis Obispo locals gathered with green organization One Cool Earth in February to plant native tree species at Whale Rock Reservoir in Cayucos.
Cal Poly students and San Luis Obispo locals gathered with green organization One Cool Earth in February to plant native tree species at Whale Rock Reservoir in Cayucos.

Sara Natividad

Trees are almost as abundant as students on campus. Many people don’t realize, though, that many of the trees were planted by One Cool Earth, a non-profit organization founded to plant native trees and plants throughout San Luis Obispo County.

The organization focuses on planting native tree species such as redwoods and oaks, One Cool Earth co-founder Lionel Johnston said. At one time, San Luis Obispo was covered in these trees, but the population was greatly reduced when pioneers came to California and used them for housing and supplies, Johnston said.

“I used to be angry at the pioneers for nearly destroying the population,” he said. “But over the years I realized that they needed them to survive, and our generation is here because of this. Now it’s our time to give back.”

On the Cal Poly campus there are plenty of trees, he said, but like the students, most are not local.

Though seemingly harmless, this can lead to problems because the non-native trees are not adaptable to the local climate, he said.

One of the main offenders are eucalyptus trees. Though eye-pleasing, they are native to Australia, and not accustomed to the pests on the Central Coast.

Because of this, the trees are becoming pest-infested and are dying all over campus, Johnston said.

To combat this, One Cool Earth plants only native species trees on campus.

The organization has planted many trees in the parking lot alongside Grand Avenue and by the soccer fields. Both of the locations were chosen to serve as a windbreak, a line of trees designed to block incoming wind, Johnston said. In addition to providing a wind break, the trees will provide a natural habitat for animals and help store carbon.

The organization also has a tree nursery on campus where they grow trees until they are ready to plant. According to Johnston, it is important to use a tree large enough to have a chance of survival, but young enough so its roots can grow properly once it is planted.

Besides the Cal Poly campus, Johnston has also put a lot of time into restoring Whale Rock Reservoir near Cayucos.

Along with Johnston, Cal Poly students and San Luis Obispo locals recently planted trees near the edge of the reservoir. The group of volunteers carried the supplies to the edge of the reservoir and planted dozens of small redwoods and oaks, all prepped with the resources to survive.

Forestry and natural resources senior Logan Budd, who said he enjoys volunteering his time to nature, has been on a few tree-planting expeditions with One Cool Earth.

“I like to go fishing at Whale Rock, and I’m a forestry major so I like planting trees and making the place a lot more beautiful,” he said. “When I come fishing here, I like to check on my trees and see how they’re doing.”

Budd met Johnston three years ago on his first expedition with One Cool Earth and the two have remained in touch.

“It’s amazing how much (Johnston) has grown,” Budd said. “He’s gone from collecting acorns and seeds to organizing all of these events and making a real difference in the world.”

The event at Whale Rock Reservoir also brought in people who were new to One Cool Earth. Cal Poly alumna Cheryl Cochran heard of the organization from a friend and volunteered her time.

“I started planting as a job, and it’s the most satisfying work I’ve ever done,” Cochran said. “It’s a physical way to help the earth and make a difference.”

Cochran used to plant trees with children and would take them years later to revisit their trees. The children were usually surprised at how small they were, but they still enjoyed seeing something they grew, she said.

“As long as your tree makes it, it’s awesome to find the tree you planted,” Cochran said.

One Cool Earth is looking to reach out to Cal Poly students who are interested in donating their time either by helping maintain the nursery or helping with planting.

“It’s easy to do and it’s something that will live on forever,” Johnston said.

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