Silence in the nursery
Closure of seedling nursery leaves employees looking for jobs
Facing continuing financial cuts at the federal level, the Genetic Resource and Conservation Center (GRCC) has shut down the nursery portion of its south Chico site, a popular attraction for picnickers and hikers.
The Pacific South Region of the Forest Service announced in October that it would move seedling production from the GRCC to its Placerville facility. The GRCC, which is administered by the Mendocino National Forest, will continue its seed orchard operation for restoration purposes. The nursery began operation in 1979, when the first test seedlings were planted.
The 209-acre facility, located along Comanche Creek off Cramer Lane, behind the Neighborhood Church, began operation in 1917 and has played a major part in reforestation efforts and even research projects for cancer treatment. The site is home to hundreds of species from all over the world.
According to Forest Service officials, demand for seedlings has declined over the past few years due to cutbacks in the logging industry and constraints put on reforestation after large fires.
“We’re not making reductions because we want to,” said Jim Fenwood, Mendocino National Forest supervisor.
Fenwood added that the Chico site has already experienced cuts in its public service office, where people can purchase forest maps and woodcutting permits. The Feather River Ranger District in Oroville is now the closest location for people to find those services.
News of the nursery’s closure wasn’t good for employees, but Robyn Scibilio, site manager at the GRCC, said the Forest Service has been doing everything it can to make the transition easy for them.
Scibilio is the former nursery manager and has been assisting with informing employees of their options. She said most employees want to stay with the agency, but that may require them to move to the Lassen or Plumas district.
“For some employees it’s working out,” Scibilio said. “Others are having a hard time at relocation. To give credit where credit is due, the agency has been trying to relocate people.”
Scibilio said five nursery technician positions and an orchard position have been cut at the Chico site.
Despite rumors swirling over the last few months of an impending shutdown of the entire site, Scibilio assures that the gates will remain open to the public.
“It will remain open and extremely busy,” she said, explaining that the staff will do its best to continue genetic research and provide public service to visitors.
Jim Giachino, a ranger in the Grindstone district, near Elk Creek, said the rumor likely had to do with a five-acre chunk of land on the northeast side near The Skyway. He said the acreage isn’t under any intensive use and has been considered for sale in the past and could likely be sold for commercial use in the future.
Hank Switzer, who recently retired as director of the GRCC, thinks the site is safe—for now.
Switzer said the site produces half of the state’s ponderosa and Douglas fir seeds. He added that even with the closure of the nursery, the site will still be able to produce seeds with the best characteristics for growth and insect and disease resistance using orchards.
Although he said there is no way to predict what will become of the acreage, filled with tree species from as far as China and Russia, making personnel cuts will make it difficult to maintain the park.
“When you only have a few people and there aren’t enough eyes and ears, things get a bit hinky.”