Rampant tree mortality in Sierra National Forest, recycling programs, and fire safety practices highlighted a town hall meeting last week at Wasuma Elementary School, as a collection of government and private business staff updated about 70 residents on each issue before answering questions.
Perhaps most glaring from the two-hour meeting was when Len Nielson, a unit forester from Cal Fire, explained how a plague of bark beetles, coupled with California’s ongoing drought, is expected to kill around 25 million trees within Sierra National Forest.
That includes Ahwahnee with 60% tree mortality, according to Nielson, and North Fork’s Cascadel Woods, where 90% of Ponderosa Pines are dead.
“Even though you see those dead trees now, we’re going to see a lot more,” Nielson said to the groans of the crowd. “That’s hard to hear, but that’s what is going to happen.”
Nielson explained numerous pines, many more than a 100 years old, have been victims of bark beetle infestations, as the insects rapidly multiply, drill into a trunk, and chew the trees apart from the inside out.
He said as a result, those trees and other species such as oak may look green to the eye, but oftentimes, they died months ago.
“Trees retain carbohydrates,” Nielson said. “So if it looks like they die overnight, that’s not it. They’ve probably been dead about six months.”
“We’re going to see this over the next six, seven years at least,” he warned later, noting only one year of predicted El Nino rain won’t make a significant difference in each tree’s longevity. “Make sure you have a good power source, and a chainsaw. You’re going to need it.”
To help defend against the dead trees, which can easily catch flame or break during heavy winds or rain, Nielson said there are no permits or other restrictions on chopping down dead trees as long as the wood is not traded, sold, or bartered.
If a homeowner or licensed timber operator wishes to sell, barter, or trade the wood, Nielson said they can fill out a three-page Drought Mortality Exemption form, available at goo.gl/YTi7Rh, as part of California’s efforts to speed up the process.
Madera County District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler, who hosted the town hall on Thursday, added he had a roundtable meeting at Gov. Jerry Brown’s office this week about tree mortality.
“I’m going to go up there and hope like heck I can get us the money,” Wheeler said of his hope to obtain funds that can assist homeowners in removing dead trees from their property.
Later in the meeting, Richard Holland expressed concerns about a program started Oct. 1 by Emadco Disposal Services, Inc. that provided Eastern Madera County customers with 96-gallon recycling bins. The program is part of statewide efforts to meet higher recycling standards.
Holland said as an elderly, disabled person, he is unable to move the large recycling containers, and was worried how others might be affected.
“You’ve all done a good job by offering people options, I’m happy with that,” Holland said. “But I’m not happy in having to pay for them even if I can’t use them.”
Holland added he didn’t want to be forced into recycling if he was unable to use the bins.
Deputy Public Works Director Ahmad Alkyatt said the county is in no way forcing anyone to recycle, and “there is no mandatory trash collection in Madera County.”
Ashley Smith, Emadco’s recycling manager, said the company has to provide the bins as part of county requirements, but they don’t have to be used.
Smith added for anyone who has trouble with the larger bins, it’s “absolutely OK” for their previous, smaller cans to be used, but they need to call Emadco at (559) 683-4680 so the driver in their area can be informed about the change for pickup.
“We want customers to be able to use their existing, or ‘old school’ cans,” Smith said.
The 96-gallon bins are for “single-sort recycling,” Smith said, which simplifies the process by allowing residents to put all recyclable glass, metal, paper, and plastic items into one can, which is shipped to the Fairmead Landfill near the City of Madera, then off to a Fresno plant to be sorted.
A full list of approved recyclable items is available by going to emadcodisposal.com and clicking on the “recycling” tab at the top of the page.
Roger Maybee, Madera County’s Firewise Coordinator, used his time to remind everyone about the importance of making their property safe from oncoming blazes.
“Having a defensible space around your house protects firefighters and protects your home from catching flame,” Maybee said. “It also prevents the chance of embers blowing into your vents, your gutters, or even through open windows.”
Many recommended practices include clearing a home’s surrounding area from brush or leaves, Maybee said, as well as clearing out rain gutters or ditches.
Maybee said he’s available to visit any home for a free assessment, and he’ll provide recommendations on how to make a home Firewise. Seven communities in the area, including Sierra Sky Ranch and Bright Oak Lane, have already reached out to him for such free assistance.