‘There are a lot of trees’: Unknown number of trees cut in Nevada County for wildfire mitigation efforts

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Trees lay along Highway 20 east of Nevada City last month as Caltrans crews worked on wildfire mitigation efforts along the state highway. The trees are crushed and used as biomass.
Photo: Elias Funez

Logging isn’t the lucrative industry it once was in Nevada County, but amid wildfire mitigation efforts, tree trunks are the new prop of property.

After hydraulic mining and the logging industry’s cross-cutting technique wiped out species native to Nevada County, forests in the northern Sierra Nevada became overcrowded with red and white fir trees, a service report says. report from Northstar published in May. Since then, the Sierra foothills have acquired “a dense understory of seedlings, brush, and downed woody material”.

TREE REMOVAL EFFORTS

Public and private agencies continue to remove an unknown number of trees and shrubs – including blue oaks and manzanita – in Nevada County.



Combined with the storm cleanup efforts of Caltrans and PG&E after the late December storm, Caltrans’ devegetation effort can be seen along Highways 49, 20 and 174, said Raquel Borrayo, public information officer. from Caltrans.

CalTrans awarded $3.7 million contract to Tyrell Resources for tree removal following snowstorm with record-breaking rainfall totals in Nevada City and Grass Valley area . Some area residents went more than 16 days without power, Borrayo said, and the number of downed trees forced Caltrans to implement emergency tree removal to deal with fallen, leaning or dangerous trees on various routes.



Tyrrell Resources cleared hazardous debris and trees from Highways 20, 49, 80, 174 and 193 in Nevada, Yuba, Sierra, El Dorado and Placer counties. Borrayo said the contract calls for work to be completed this month.

According to Caltrans construction, the removed trees are being moved to Lincoln’s Rio Bravo Rocklin biomass facility.

As of April 1, Tyrrell Resources has sent “approximately 300 truckloads of woodchips to Rio Bravo Rocklin.”

Each of the 300 loads weighs about 24 tons, Borrayo said, meaning that as of April 1, the contractor has finally produced 7,200 tons of wet woodchips.

In addition, Caltrans maintenance crews are performing brush clearing and fuel reduction measures on Highway 20 eastbound.

“They start just east of Penn Valley and go towards the Ponderosa Overcrossing,” Borrayo said. “When complete, they will then head west on State Route 20 from the Ponderosa Overcrossing to Penn Valley.”

There, Caltrans crews remove brush and trees 4 inches wide or less at chest height.

“The work depends on weather conditions and fire restrictions – red flag days,” Borrayo said. “We are also coordinating with our environmental team to mark any environmentally sensitive areas prior to clearing brush along the highway.”

Manzanita is mulched, Borrayo said, leaving behind the red humus that can be seen from the side of the road.

“We grind sawdust/mulch to cover the ground,” Borrayo said.

Neither trees removed as part of Caltrans’ de-vegetation effort nor those removed by the emergency contractor are counted, Borrayo said.

“That’s a lot of trees,” Borrayo said.

PG&E has also pledged to cut down 1 million trees on 70,000 miles of service lines across central and northern California.

The utility company’s 2022 wildfire mitigation plan does not specify the number of trees cut within county or city limits. When asked to specify the number of trees receiving the ax in Nevada County, communications specialist Megan McFarland said she did not have the number.

PERSPECTIVES

Jamie Hinrichs, public affairs specialist for the Tahoe National Forest, said she was aware of the Caltrans tree removal on Highway 20.

Hinrichs said she was unsure of the amount, if any, of tree removal carried out along the roads that had been paid for by the federal agency.

“Tahoe National Forest has specifically supported and engaged in wildfire mitigation work, (including combating) hazardous vegetation on the interface between wild and urban lands…where communities are truly close to land federal forestry,” Hinrichs said.

Hinrichs said part of that work is removing saplings so that prescribed fire can be used in the landscape.

“A low-intensity fire that can be used in a way that really mimics the California fire ecosystem,” Hinrichs said. “Using a small fire now is a way to dampen a larger fire later – you remove some of the surface vegetation, and there are gaps between large trees so they don’t burn.”

Hinrichs said vulnerable communities must do what they can to create pathways out.

“That’s why a lot of tree-cutting work is concentrated along roads and highways,” Hinrichs said.

Hinrichs said the appearance of trunks or the visibility of the sky through a generally dense forest region doesn’t necessarily indicate anything unhealthy.

“You think having more trees is always better, but actually the density of the forest is not healthy,” Hinrichs said, adding, “It’s not healthy for the forest. It also increases the risk of fire.

Hinrichs said forests were much thinner hundreds of years ago than they appear to be today.

“It’s like a straw in the ground – the more straws in the ground, the more water the trees will suck up,” Hinrichs said. “Because California is experiencing a prolonged drought, this makes trees competing with limited resources more susceptible to insect infestation.”

Hinrichs said leaving dead trees standing puts local communities at risk in the event of an electrical storm.

SURVEILLANCE

Terrie Prosper, director of the California Public Utilities Commission’s press office, said California has created a new state agency specifically dedicated to reducing the risk of utility equipment starting wildfires, called the Office of Energy Infrastructure Safety.

“Vegetation management is one of the ways utilities, including PG&E, reduce this risk,” Prosper said, adding that all of the company’s mitigation activities were documented in a plan submitted in february.

PG&E’s security performance is continually evaluated by the CPUC, Prosper said, adding that the commission has “taken enforcement action against the utility, including activating the specially designed enhanced application monitoring process. for PG&E because of its track record of security failures”.

According to Prosper, PG&E is in the first stage of the commission’s enhanced enforcement oversight process “based on the company’s failure to sufficiently prioritize the clearing of vegetation on its high-risk power lines as part of its wildfire mitigation work in 2020, and we will continue to use this progressive monitoring process based on PG&E’s safety performance.

“The CPUC has asked PG&E to submit a corrective action plan and report on progress every 90 days,” Prosper added. “CPUC staff are currently evaluating PG&E’s latest report to determine if it has made sufficient progress to meet its objective.”

Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at [email protected]

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