You don’t have to be an arborist to know the effect of the drought on trees. Living in the parched valley, it’s easy to see the dying trees before many of them are removed. One local group is working hard to replace those trees with new, less thirsty trees, and it’s asking for the public’s help with a fundraiser next weekend.

The Tree Foundation of Kern is holding its annual fundraiser, A Toast to Trees (formerly An Evening of Wine and Trees) on Oct. 28. Guests will enjoy tapas and drinks and have the opportunity to bid on a variety of auction items.

“We hope people will support the Tree Foundation and what we do and help us continue our mission of planting trees and cleaning our air,” said Melissa Iger, the foundation’s executive director and a certified arborist. “Plus it’ll be fun. We are not a stuffy, snobbish group.”

Since its start in 1994, the Tree Foundation has planted more than 17,000 trees in Kern County, in parks and schools and on streets. In recent years, the foundation’s focus has narrowed on planting not just any trees, but specific trees that can withstand the valley’s dry conditions. In the last two years or so, 2,000 trees have been removed due to the drought, she said, and there are probably about 1,500 more that need to be removed.

“The drought just about killed us,” Iger said. “It’s time to come back. Take out those redwoods and plant some drought-tolerant trees.”

Redbud trees are a favorite of Iger’s to plant in Kern County, as they don’t require nearly as much water as redwoods do. Chinese pistaches, olive trees, crape myrtles, palo verde trees and Chinese elms also do well in dry climates, she said.

“We can’t let the drought stop us,” she said. “The drought will end, but we need to be smart about our tree choices and plant low water-use, drought-tolerant trees.”

In addition to providing shade and improving the quality of our air, trees have some other unique properties, Iger said.

“Trees bring a community spirit to everyone who lives here. They calm your mind ... They bring you back to reality. Trees are amazing. They do so many neat things.”

The annual fundraiser tends to raise about $10,000 each year, Iger said. At about $100 a tree, that’s enough to plant 1,000 trees.

“It gives us money to operate,” Iger said. “Our goal is to start replacing trees that have died from the drought.”

At the fundraiser, guests will able to auction on prizes like a John Deere wagon, Disneyland park hopper tickets, a wine basket, a food basket and a basket of different olive oils from Rio Bravo Ranch. Also up for grabs are pieces for the event’s “Trees in Art” portion, which is just what its name says: artwork featuring trees. Iger is excited about the art, she said, and currently they are all in her house “in my guest room, on the floor, on the bed. They’re all over.”

The tapas will come from Bakersfield College’s culinary arts department. Working with the tree theme, the menu will include dishes with olives and nuts, including a pistachio baclava for dessert, Iger said.

“Those are my passions: food, trees and art,” Iger said. “It’s fun to put them all together.”

Also keeping guests busy at the event will be a wine grab (where $20 gets you a mystery wine), a 50/50 raffle and “tree-via.” Iger wouldn’t share specific questions for the trivia quiz but said one question a board member threw out was so tough it even stumped her. That one might be a tie-breaker, she said. Either way, it’s time for guests to brush up on some tree facts if they want to win.

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