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This week, Yuba Water Agency’s work to remove 284 dead and dying hazardous trees around Lake Francis is expected to wrap up, which will reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire and help slow the spread of a bark beetle infestation.

California’s ongoing drought conditions have lowered the trees’ resistance to bark beetle infestation, leading to rapid spread and a large tree mortality rate. Bark beetles attack stressed trees by boring holes into the bark. A normal, healthy tree would fend off the attack by exuding tree resin into the holes, which pushes the beetles out. Drought-stressed trees, however, have a difficult time producing enough resin to fight off the insects, which allows the beetles to lay eggs, quickly multiply and oftentimes spread to surrounding trees.

“Last year in September, we noticed a couple of dead ponderosa pines in one of the general public day-use areas near the lake,” said Hydro Construction Project Manager Bill Shaw, who is overseeing the project. “Within two to three weeks that number grew to approximately 30 dead trees.”

The infestation started on the north side of the lake in the day-use areas and near Lake Francis Resort and then quickly spread to the west shore, almost all the way to the spillway.

After identifying the hazardous trees at Lake Francis, Yuba Water contracted P31 Enterprises to cut and remove 132 trees from the north side and 152 trees from the west side of the lake, ranging from five to 40 inches in diameter. After the trees were cut and removed from their respective areas, they were then staged at the day-use areas to be hauled away.

While there is little-to-no market for dead trees that have been infested by bark beetle, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was able to use the materials for streambed restoration projects that benefit and enhance fish habitat.

“Due to the current timber market, we would have had a tough time selling any of the logs we removed,” Shaw said. “But we were able to get in touch with the Corps and they agreed to load and haul 14 truckloads of the logs at no cost to us, which was a huge plus.”

Additionally, cbec eco engineering also expressed interest in using some of the logs for fish habitat enhancement as part of the Hallwood Side Channel and Floodplain Restoration Project, which Yuba Water is an active partner in. However, they needed four to six feet of limb structure left on the trunks.

“We had to get creative to keep the structure intact because of the dense terrain these trees were located on near the west side of the lake,” Shaw said. “Fortunately, we were able to do some road improvements, which enabled us to haul those out using a self-loading logging truck and then stage them in one of the day-use areas before being carefully hauled away.”

Yuba Water’s tree removal at Lake Francis is expected to slow the bark beetle infestation and prevent damage to additional trees. The work will also reduce catastrophic wildfire risk in the Yuba County foothills, while simultaneously benefiting habitat restoration efforts in the lower Yuba River.

“Visitors to Lake Francis will likely notice that the landscape has changed a bit,” Shaw said. “As someone who works and recreates in this area, I can assure you we do everything we can to preserve this area and that is was critical to remove these trees to ensure public safety and to slow the infestation.”

Learn more at yubawater.org.