The first in a series of Town Hall meetings hosted by District 5 County Supervisor Tom Wheeler opened last week with, after introductions, a somber message from Denise Tolmie.
“I saw tree mortality in the 1980s when I first started with the forest service,” said Tolmie, district ranger for the Bass Lake Ranger District. “But never to the magnitude we have right now. It saddens me, as I’m sure it saddens all of you. We’re seeing our forest change right in front of our eyes.”
Cal Fire Unit Forester Len Nielson, with the Madera-Mariposa-Merced Unit, agreed.
“We know we’re surrounded by it,” Nielson said. “We’re consumed by it.”
But all was not lost, Nielson told a crowd of around 50 people in the Oakhurst Community Center.
Thanks to the state’s recent release of $500,000 to six counties most affected by tree mortality, Nielson said Madera County received $83,000, and last week he requested $71,000 for new equipment and crews to help take down thousands of dying trees.
“Here in Madera and Mariposa counties, that’s going to be some great relief,” Nielson said. “We’ve been working on this for months, and it’s finally coming to this county. It’s finally happening.”
Future projects, though not finalized, will continue work along Road 274 near Bass Lake that removed some 1,100 hazardous trees in December, Nielson said. Separate Mountain Area locations will be chosen later.
That work was a joint effort between Cal Fire, the U.S. Forest Service, Madera County Sheriff’s Office, and the county’s Road Department.
If approved, the $71,000 will add a skid steer, track and tow-behind chippers, inmate and engine crews, a masticator/excavator, and portable sawmill, Nielson said, to make tree removal a more efficient process.
Nielson added though the Road 274 project focused only on trees that could fall into the roadway, landowners may be asked to give approval in the future for trees to be removed from their property with the new equipment.
“We’re going to ask the public to tell us okay when a letter comes or someone knocks on your door asking you if we can remove those dead trees,” Nielson said. “With your help, we can make this an even better process.”
Transit service and public health
Throughout the Town Hall, staff from several other agencies provided updates for the crowd.
Among them, Jerome Jackson, of the Madera County Connection transit system, talked about the availability of bus routes between the City of Madera and Eastern Madera County, among many other improvements.
Some notable programs included a Senior Citizen Bus, Jackson said, which, for a $1.50 one-way ticket, will pick up seniors at home and transport them to much of the Mountain Area.
Many citizens were impressed.
“The senior bus is the greatest thing since sliced bread,” 93-year-old Robert Austin said to the crowd’s cheers.
Also, for medical transport, a van will take willing citizens as far south as Fresno or Clovis for appointments and bring them home, for a total $10 charge.
There are limitations to the programs, Jackson said, and he asked those with questions to call (559) 675-7811 to sign up or for more information.
Along with Jackson’s presentation, Deborah Bernal and Mayra Miranda of Madera County Public Health discussed free smoking cessation classes.
Miranda said those with questions about e-cigarettes, or “vaping,” as well as other ways for trying to cut back on tobacco or nicotine should call the Madera County Tobacco Coalition at (559) 675-7893.
Wheeler’s next Town Hall is scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. Feb. 11, inside the Yosemite Lakes Park Clubhouse at 30250 Yosemite Springs Parkway.