By Joan Bergsund
Much in the news lately, our foothill trees are in trouble. Consider the stately old elms lining the streets in Columbia State Park. Some are diseased and must come down. Others are being inspected; perhaps they´ll provide shade and ambiance for a few more years while newly planted trees get started. Remember the crowning beauty at the Cassina High Dome that was removed during considerable controversy? Consider the acts of vandalism by several high school boys upon the young trees at Summerville High School, planted as memorials to special people. What about native oaks that regularly fall before the developer´s blade? Virtual forests were destroyed during the construction of the Highway 108 bypass and many trees were sacrificed for the shopping centers that serve us today. As parcels are developed, there´s usually a tree—or two or three—that must be cut down to provide a building pad.
Right now the parcel under development for the new ambulance center on Tuolumne Road has protected one oak on the crest of the hill by screening the base with orange netting. In order for the oak to survive, a root area equal at the very least to the perimeter of the crown and spread of the tree must not be cut or disturbed. This has been our collective plea for many years. How can planners, developers and heavy equipment operators not have heard?
One could argue that we need better, more definitive ordinances, both city and county, to give our trees a fighting chance, our oaks in particular. In 1995, the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors adopted voluntary guidelines and recommendations for the sustained management of oak woodland resources. Let´s review these guidelines and recommendations, so that as development proceeds, we´ll be ready to save as many trees as possible. Let´s give our decision makers the power to do a better job of saving the trees.
Long-time Tuolumne County residents wax poetic about the natural beauty of our foothills, and how fortunate we are to live here. This is true. No one denies it. Our oak-grass savanna is a habitat unique to the Sierra Nevada Foothills. I know I´m almost home when I drive from the valley and see the dark fringe of oaks spread across the hills.
But the man-made commercial environment, for the most part, is a sorry substitute. As you drive about the county, check out the buildings, the plethora of signs, the minimal landscaping, and the absence of any transition, one building to the next. What about this larger picture: the public buildings, the parks, our commercial buildings and shopping centers? Do you think they compliment the exquisite natural setting of our foothills and forests? Or do they fall short of this goal?
As you go about your daily business—driving to work, doing your errands, attending your meetings, transporting children to their many activities—do you notice the buildings and landscaping? Let´s slow down and take a moment to notice our surroundings. Does beautiful landscaping register as you come and go? Beautiful shrubs and trees that break up the sea of asphalt in a parking lot, for instance, can have a positive effect on your state of mind. How are we doing locally?
Sonora Beautiful is one small group of volunteers which should be mentioned. Under the city of Sonora´s umbrella, Sonora Beautiful seeks opportunities to beautify our downtown. At work for many years, they have achieved some impressive results. They are responsible for designing and maintaining the horse trough parking lot across from the Opera Hall, venerable Coffill Park, crape myrtles planted along the side of the Opera Hall and others pockets of greenery, such as the plantings at the corner of North Washington Street at the new Firefighting museum.
If we want to take pride in our town, enjoy moving about our county, hoping our tourist industry will thrive, we have to care about how we look. I urge you all to speak up when plants are the subject. Let your planning commissioners and city or county representatives know how much you care about landscaping plans included with each development application. Let´s enhance our natural environment for the pleasure of us all.
Much is said about the beauty of the foothills; our marvelous mix of trees, the rolling hills of grassland. But the manmade environments leave something to be desired. As taxpayers and voters we can indicate our desires, our wish to protect our unique plant communities, to blend our created environments into the native, valued landscape…and make Tuolumne as lovely as it was before we all came to town.
The University of California Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor´s Office is reinstating the Tuolumne County Hardwood Advisory Committee. If you would like additional information, call 533-5696. See you in the garden.
Joan Bergsund is a Tuolumne County Master Gardener who landscapes her foothill property utilizing native oaks and shrubs.