NEVADA CITY, Calif. September 9, 2016 – Everywhere you look, dead and dying trees are dotting the landscape throughout Nevada County. An estimated 66 million trees in the Sierra Nevada are affected by bark beetle kill. The problem exceeds the capacity of private property owners to have standing dead timber removed and slow the infection of nearby trees. Disposal of the trees, which have little to no merchantable value, appears to be another difficult issue. So, what can be done?
CAL FIRE’s tree mortality viewer only shows patches of light to moderate tree mortality, (5-15 trees per acre) in the Penn Valley, Rough&Ready and North San Juan area, plus scattered spots in Alta Sierra and near Soda Springs to name a few locations. According to Steve Monaghan, Nevada County’s Chief Information Officer, aerial surveys have not gone north of the Grass Valley area.
The flight path indicated on the map confirms the absence of data for the vast majority of the county. It is unknown at this point when the survey will be completed. The lack of data might hamper the county’s efforts to be included in any available state funding opportunities.
Meanwhile, local groups are attempting to inventory the existing damage. A local neighborhood association recently asked if members had any dead trees already on the ground. The response was overwhelming, in a few hours 38 property owners listed 425 logs ready for removal. The infested trees were downed as part of P&G&E’s safety program, branches were chipped but the tree trunks are still on the ground. The informal survey did not take into account dead standing trees and newly infested trees. If the admittedly small sample size is any indication, the data map for Nevada County will change – for the worse.
PG&E’ contractors inspecting reported dying or dead trees along power lines have identified close to 8,000 hazard trees in Nevada County these past few months. Crews are working to remove the trees as fast as possible, but the pace of infection is picking up.
County finally takes action
State resources are scarce, but they could provide 75% funding for certain projects on public properties, rights-of-way held by the county or “… evaluation and identification of dead or dying trees threatening the public rights-of-way and public infrastructure by a certified arborist or forester,” according to the September 2nd Friday Memo published by Nevada County.
At their upcoming meeting, the Nevada County Board of Supervisors will finally declare a local emergency “due to extreme Tree Mortality, and directing a certified copy of this resolution be forwarded to the Governor of California with a request he proclaim the County of Nevada to be in a state of emergency.” The item will be heard shortly after 10:30 am on Tuesday, Sept. 13th.
This might bolster the county’s chances of being included in the statewide emergency declaration issued by Governor Brown on October 15, 2015. At this time, Nevada County has not been included in the state disaster declaration and it is unclear if any funding will be available in this budget cycle.
The 2016-17 State budget $11 million for tree mortality mitigation activities to CAL FIRE. Another $30 million to Cal OES to provide assistance to counties through the California Disaster Assistance Act (CDAA) for tree removal efforts. An additional $5 million from the State Responsibility Area Fund (aka Fire Tax) was specifically allocated for tree mortality mitigation programs.
Local resources for homeowners
The Fire Safe Council of Nevada County has several programs assisting homeowners. The organization works with the existing 17 FireWise communities in Nevada County and has 11 neighborhoods in the process of completing the application.
Many of their programs are volunteer-driven, be that defensible space advisory visits or even the FireWise program where neighborhoods take responsibility for implementing fire safe practices. Asked if the Fire Safe Council could take on more programs, Executive Director Joanne Drummond stated they are running at full capacity. She is the only full-time staff at this time.
The Nevada County Resource Conservation District offers a Natural Resources Advisory Visit Program. This program provides information in addition to facilitating referrals to other public and private resource professionals at no cost to the landowner, including the Natural Resource Conservation Service, a division of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA.) Private land owners might be eligible for EQIP grants.
PG&E encourages property owners to promptly report any hazard trees:
Some signs of a dead, dying or diseased tree are bare branches, brown leaves or needles, a cracked or leaning trunk and trails of fine sawdust near the tree base indicating an insect attack. If you identify such a tree and it is close to a power line, don’t attempt to remove or prune it. Please stay away and call us at 1-800-743-5000.”