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Tree Mortality Update

Addressing the continuing problem of removing dead and dying trees in our mountain communities has been on the front burner for me. Clearly more needs to be done to aid forested counties with the removal and disposal of dead trees, as well as helping homeowners absorb the cost of removing multiple trees from their private property.

A recap of where things stand at this point:

In September, I sent a request to Governor Jerry Brown urging him to declare a State of Emergency on the issue of tree mortality. In October, he did just that and convened a Tree Mortality Task Force to determine priorities and next steps on addressing this problem. The task force has been meeting regularly since then.

California forests have grown to be overly dense and are suffering from a fourth consecutive year of drought, causing them to be highly susceptible to wildfire and beetle infestation. In December, the Carnegie Institution for Science released a study, which determined that as many as 58 million trees statewide have been impacted by drought or disease. This number far surpasses what was previously believed to be the scope of the problem.

The importance of removing dead and diseased trees cannot be overstated. Addressing widespread tree mortality is a crucial first step to not only safeguarding our forest communities, but also in creating a healthier and more resilient Sierra Nevada forest – which provides more than 60 percent of the state’s water supply.

There are quite a few issues involved under the umbrella of tree mortality. Some of the more pressing ones are as follows:

  • Assessing and removing impacted trees. Counties are working with the Office of Emergency Services (OES), CalFire, the Forest Service, Pacific Gas and Electric as well as other utilities to remove dead trees and prioritize public roads and areas for tree removal.
  • Disposal of the trees once they have been removed. The sheer number of trees needing to be destroyed in mind-numbing. If left to rot, the felled trees will be nothing more than kindling for the next forest fire. Yet, the number of dead and dying trees far exceeds the capacity of the limited number of mills and biomass plants currently operating. The governor called for expedited action to ensure ongoing operation of forest bioenergy facilities in high fire hazard zones in his Emergency Proclamation on Tree Mortality, yet seven biomass plants have contracts set to expire within the next 2-7 months. Another 13 are sitting idle. We have been working with our state partners and the biomass industry to see what can be done to maintain the viability of that industry.

Tree Mortality Resources for Homeowners

  • In January, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in California launched an initiative to assist private forestland owners address tree mortality and other drought-related damage to improve forest health. Removing dead tree debris and other dry woody material will help reduce the spread of invasive pests and reduce the threat of wildfire. Landowners of non-industrial private conifer forestlands in Amador, Calaveras, Tuolumne, Mariposa, Madera, Fresno, Tulare, and Kern counties are eligible to apply for assistance. Funding will be made available through the NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
  • Eligible landowners are encouraged to contact their local county NRCS service center for more information and to apply: Fresno County – (559) 276-7494; Kern County – (661) 336-0967; Madera County – (559) 674-4628; Mariposa County – (209) 966-3431; Tulare County – (559) 734-8732; Amador, Calaveras and Tuolumne counties – (209) 223-6535
  • PG&E has also established a help desk (1-800-PGE-5000) if you, as a homeowner need to report dying or diseased trees near power lines.
  • Madera County Supervisor Tom Wheeler is holding an informational resource fair on this topic on April 2 in Oakhurst.