When a fire ignites in a dry environment, the flames move without prejudice, destroying beautiful landscapes and sending animals fleeing for their lives. And restoring what the fires destroyed? Forget it — it’s time-consuming and expensive.
But after fires destroyed regions of central Chile in 2017, two women devised a brilliant scheme to rejuvenate the charred forests. For their plan to work, however, she needed the help of a few high-energy heroes who just wanted to play…
In January of 2017, towering flames swept across the south-central region of Chile. The fires, fueled by historically high temperatures and a long drought, turned vineyards, forests, and homes to ash.
Biblioteca del Congreso Nacional
Despite heroic efforts by firefighters, the flames only grew. Chilean President Michelle Bachelet declared a state of emergency. “We have never seen something of this size,” she said. “Never in Chile’s history.”
In February, with the help of foreign aid from 12 countries including Japan, the United States, and Russia, Chile corralled and controlled the fires. The destruction, though, was almost inconceivable.
Nearly 1,500 homes fell to the fire that ate up 1,433,000 acres of drought-dry forests and claimed 11 lives in the El Maule region. Charred trees were all that remained in an ecosystem once teaming with animal life.
But in the wake of the fires, Francisca Torres (below) — who ran an environmental NGO called Pewos — and her sister undertook the impossible task of rejuvenating the forests. She enlisted some curious help to get the job done…
See, Francisca knew even with human replanting efforts, it would take decades to restore the charred forest. With her border collies, Summer, Olivia, and Das, however, she hoped to speed the process up.
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The project, which started in March of 2017, drew inspiration from the legend of Johnny Appleseed, an 18th-century American who generously spread apple seeds all across Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.
Francisca and her sister’s recreation of the American legend didn’t feature a pioneer and nurseryman, however. Instead, her three border collies wore special backpacks, all stuffed with the seeds of native trees…
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Then, she sent them off running into the charred forests! On a typical excursion, six-year-old Das led the charge, and her two pups followed close behind her. They played with seed-stuffed backpacks.
As the dogs ran and wrestled throughout the charred forests, they sent seeds flying from their special backpacks. The goal, of course, was to spread seeds far and wide.
Balti Mom / Instagram
Francisca (right) hoped the seeds would take root throughout the forest, giving life to trees, grass, and flowers. “The main thing,” she said, “is for the fauna to be able to live.”
Because Francisca knew that, if the trees and flowers returned to the Chilean forests, so would the bees, birds, and every other animal or insect exiled by the devastating fires.
Naturally, Summer, Olivia, and Das relished the opportunity to run free along the forest floor — even if they didn’t truly understand their impact on the landscape. Even better, as Francisca pointed out, they were effective…
Border collies were bred to herd sheep. They’re smart, they’re fast, and they know not to get distracted by any bird they might see passing by overhead. But more importantly, they could cover serious distances.
Your average human, Francisca figured, might be able to cover effectively about two miles of forest per day using the Johnny Appleseed technique of haphazardly tossing seeds everywhere. But the dogs?
Thanks to their speed and energy, Summer, Olivia, and Das covered about 10 times as much as a human could — nearly 20 miles per day. And the dogs were handsomely rewarded for that…
Every time the dogs returned to Francisca, she refilled their backpacks with seeds…and handed over a few delicious dog treats, too! Then, of course, they were off to play again — and spread seeds.
Incredibly, the dogs did such a great job with the seeds — they each spread about 20 pounds worth every day in the field — that their services were used in forests throughout Chile.
Martin Bernetti / Instagram
Just from March 2017 to June 2017, for instance, Summer, Olivia, and Das visited 15 different flame-devastated forests in the region. At each burned spot, they brought their backpacks full of seeds. And best of all?
By June, Francisca shared the good news: “we have seen many results in flora and fauna coming back to the burned forest,” she said. No doubt, those dogs definitely earned their treats!
Francisca and her sister have brought life back to Chile in the most incredible way. And the best part? These dogs are doing world-changing work and they don’t even know it!
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