David Schrom was running on the foothills at the Stanford Dish when he noticed something disconcerting. There was an age gap between the oak trees on the Dish — only very young and very old oaks were growing. He started to fix the problem using what he called “a guerilla tree-planting thing.”
“I started to plant acorns in little cages, and the cow came in and tore all those little cages,” Schrom said. “So then I took fence post and barbed wire up there…and got caught doing that.”
Around the same time, John Hunter Thomas M.A. ’49 Ph.D. ’59, professor of biology, was doing work on the flora of surrounding areas. Thomas and his students became interested in Schrom’s project.
Schrom, a swim instructor at the time, talked to the students about the oaks. They decided to hire a consultant, who, after studying the foothills, supported Schrom’s claims that the trees needed to be replanted. In 1984, Schrom signed a contract with Stanford and started “Planting for the Second Hundred Years.”
The project is run by Magic, a nonprofit corporation Schrom co-founded in 1979. Magic’s members practice valuescience — science applied to shed light on questions of value, such as cooperation, healthy living, protecting the environment and the betterment of humankind.
Planting oaks is a sophisticated process. Aside from digging a hole in the ground and putting the tree in it, planters also need to build berms to prevent water from flowing away since the oaks are planted on a slope. Planters place protection, such as steel bars and wire mesh, around a newly planted oak to protect it from animals. Volunteers also place mulch over the soil to retain moisture, reduce erosion, provide nutrients and prevent weed growth and seed germination. The volunteers plant two species of oaks — live oak and valley oak — to increase the survival rate.
A planting session usually lasts three hours. Last December, Magic called for volunteers from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m.
“A lot of people hung on and pitched in extra work to make sure that it got finished up,” said volunteer Chris Quartetti ’98.
During winter and spring, Magic and its volunteers make sure that the tree protection remains in place. They clear the weeds and renew the mulch. From May to October they hold watering sessions, when volunteers water the oaks to help them survive the dry weather.
For the first two years, volunteers water the trees every week. In the third year, watering sessions take place every other week. Trees that have been in the ground for four years or more get watered once a month during winter and spring, and three times during the summer.
Each watering session takes about an hour. Magic has a regular group of volunteers but invites Stanford community members to commit to one-hour watering sessions at any time.
Magic has planted more than 2,000 oaks, of which 1,000 have survived.
“In the early years, we were just learning,” Schrom said. “We were among the first people in the state to actively engage in regeneration of oaks.”
Now, according to Quartetti, the oaks’ survival rate is 90 percent. Other comparable projects have an average survival rate of 40 percent.
“The difference is that we really take care and put in all these precautions and protections,” Quartetti said.
Schrom thinks of the project as a communal effort. He is “primarily concerned with the heads and the hearts of people who come out there,” he said, and hopes that they reconnect with other people and the landscape itself.
“[We wanted volunteers] to get the sense that they’re part of something bigger,” Schrom said. “There’s possibility in working together to achieve things that seem daunting, but if we all pitch in, may be quite attainable.”