Sonora, CA — Tuolumne Supervisors voted unanimously to terminate the state of emergency for tree mortality in the county.
The declaration was made in September of 2015 due to impacts from the drought and bark beetle infestation. Since then, 60 projects have been completed with nearly 15,000 dead and dying trees removed on private properties and non-county maintained roadways, according to staff. That number is second only to Fresno County with 16,000.
In December of 2016, the county received $2.4-million in State Responsibility Act Funding. That money came out of the funds raised by the $150 state Fire Tax on rural property owners, which is no longer being collected by the state. The funding recently expired.
Speaking about the tree mortality response, District 2 Supervisor Ryan Campbell praised the work, “This to me is an example where the county government gets it right, where it really works. Because if you looked at the cost of removing these trees on private property to the individual property owner; it was prohibitive. It couldn’t have got done. Coordination with all these agencies, and we really see good results.”
Some of those key groups were California Office of Emergency Services, CAL Fire and PG&E. Noting that on average it would have cost private property owners $1,000 per tree, Campbell added, “We’ll never know the lives and properties that were saved.”
Mike Albrecht, who was hired by the county to assist with coordinating the projects, praised the local timber industry in the county for the work getting done so quickly and cost effectively, stating, “Thank goodness we have the markets we’ve got because all of these products [from the logging] stayed in our county and went to use of some kind. Most of it to generate power at Ultrapower [a biomass plant in Chinese Camp] or some went to the sawmill and some went to the shavings plant. This county saved literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in trucking….where it would have had to go somewhere else, instead it stayed here and made jobs locally.”
And the work is not yet done. With funding still available through the California Disaster Assistance Act the county is planning for hazard tree removal along Big Hill, Parrotts Ferry, Deer Flat Road and Hells Hollow. Additionally, the U.S. forest service is funding work on the largest project that involves chopping down over 4,250 hazardous trees on Evergreen Road near Yosemite National Park. It also targets 445 trees for removal in the Tuolumne area along Buchanan Road.
Noting that the risk from hazard trees has been greatly decreased and that keeping the local state of emergency in place would cause additional hurdles for staff while not being necessary for obtaining additional grant funding, the board voted 5-0 to end the emergency declaration.