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EL DORADO HILLS, Calif. August 2, 2016 – Faced with thousands of acres of dead trees that have contributed to devastating wildfires in the Sierras, the Bureau of Land Management has formed a task force to determine how to manage the dead trees to minimize wildfire risk and protect the public.

The BLM California State Office formed a Tree Mortality Fire Prevention and Education Team to develop a risk assessment and implementation plan.  The team, which is meeting at the Mother Lode Field Office for the next two weeks, consists of wildland fire and mitigation specialists from across the country.

The Mother Lode Field Office is facing one of the largest tree mortality events in recent history.  Approximately one third of its land, nearly 60,000 acres, has been affected with conifer mortality.

In spring of 2015, Jerry Martinez, BLM zone fire management officer, began to see trees killed by bark beetles in the southern part of Mariposa County. Surveys that summer found a growing number of dead trees.

That September, the Butte Fire in Amador and Calaveras counties became the seventh most destructive fire in state history, burning more than 500 homes and killing two people.

The beetle-killed trees were a contributing factor to the extreme fire behavior. On two separate days, the fire made runs of some 20,000 acres.  By the end, the Butte Fire burned 70,861 acres and affected the Mokelumne watershed that provides water for over 2 million people.

Working in partnership with the Interagency Tree Mortality Task Force, the Mother Lode Field Office has taken aggressive triage action to minimize wildland fire and life safety risks to the public.

Initial projects include shoring up fuel breaks along Tip Top and Wagner Ridge to help protect the communities of Moccasin, Big Oaks Flats, Priest, Groveland and additional communities in Tuolumne County.  That also helps protect the Moccasin watershed which provides drinking water for the Bay Area.

Working with Tuolumne County Supervisor John Gray, the Jamestown hazard tree removal project has provided the BLM with a free place to dispose of hazard trees while providing free firewood to seniors and residents.  In addition, hazardous trees were removed from South Yuba Campground by the Folsom Lake Veterans Fire Crew this spring.

The Tree Mortality Fire Prevention and Education Team’s risk assessment and implementation plan for the Mother Lode Field Office will focus on high risk areas like residential areas adjacent to BLM-managed lands and campgrounds. For more information contact Samantha Storms at (916) 978-4615.