With the July 4th weekend just a week away, many families are being notified their much-anticipated Bass Lake camping vacation will not happen due to a major cutting and clearing operation of dead trees killed by the historic bark beetle infestation.
As of July 1, two of the seven campgrounds on the south shore of Bass Lake (Road 222) will be open - the Forks Campground, offering 27 sites, and Wishon offering 47 single and group sites accommodating up to 535 people. That’s about one third of the 1,600 individuals who can be accommodated at full capacity when all campgrounds are open.
Closed campgrounds include Cedar Bluff / Lupin (72 including group sites), and Spring Cove (62 single sites). It is hoped that Cedar / Lupin will open in mid-August. Spring Cove is not expected to open this season.
An additional 11 group campgrounds are closed at Recreation Point and Crane Valley across the road from Recreation Point at the west end of the lake.
Recreation Point has four group campgrounds that accommodate 30 to 50 people, and Crane Valley has seven group sites that accommodate 12 to 30 campers per site.
The Cedar Bluff / Lupin (72 combined sites) campgrounds were open for Memorial Day weekend, but re-closed for further cleanup.
About 130 people are currently being accommodated in the Forks Campground, and 230 more at the soon-to-open Wishon Campground.
California Land Management handles reservations for the Forest Service campgrounds.
Everyone with campground reservations are being notified of the closures and will receive full refunds. Anyone that has not been contacted should call (877) 477-6777.
Three day use areas
Things aren’t much better for those wishing to visit for a lakeside picnic and a little swimming as four of the seven day use areas are also closed for tree removal. Currently open are Pine Point, Lakeside on Road 222, and The Falls on Road 432.
Day use areas currently closed include Recreation Point, Denver Church, Pine Slope, and Rocky Point - areas heavily utilized for viewing the July 4 fireworks display over the lake.
“We will do everything we can to open as many areas as possible by the July 4th weekend, keeping in mind our number one priority in completing this mission is to keep our public safe,” said Iveth Hernandez, public affairs assistant with the Forest Service. “This is a long-term project to open all the areas. We will continue to evaluate the situation as time progresses because it is constantly changing. Tree mortality is an issue that we will be dealing with for three to five years.”
Michelle Feuerstein, California Land Management Operations Manager on the Sierra National Forest, said that unfortunately tree mortality will continue to occur for several more years.
“A number of agencies are working collaboratively to expedite the removal of the hazardous trees in the Bass Lake basin,” Feuerstein said. “With regards to July 4th, and other busy summer days, I encourage the public to use only areas at the lake that are open, and stay out of the areas that are closed for safety.”
Michelle Miller of Miller’s Landing Resort, which is near the Cedar Bluff / Lupin campground, said she saw a slight drop in lunch and dinner business when the campgrounds closed May 30.
“People come up to Bass Lake for the first-come, first-serve campsites, and find out nothing is available,” Miller said. “It’s a little heartbreaking knowing they drove a long way to get here for their traditional family camping trip, and are forced to leave, sometimes late at night.
“We have waited seven years for a full lake - we get it and now, unfortunately, we are dealing with the effects of this horrible devastation of the forest,” Miller said.
Some of the dozen loggers with Willis Timber and Walsh Timber are working 12 hours a day, seven days a week under contract with the U.S. Forest Service in an effort to get the campgrounds and day use areas open as quickly as possible.
Hernandez reminds people to be careful when visiting the forest.
“Remember to look up at the trees that are around you - if the tree is brown or red it is likely dead and this may not be a safe place to be,” Hernandez said. “Keep an eye out for a lot of red pine needles on the ground, which can indicate nearby dead trees. If there is a loud crack or split, leave the area as limbs may be falling. Make sure that you do not pitch your tent or park your car under dead trees. Remember that dead trees and limbs are more likely to fall during high winds.”
Dead tree count nearing 30 million
Cal Fire estimates there are nearly 30 million dead trees statewide, up from 3 million in 2014, and the number is expected to grow. The bark beetle will continue to flourish during the summer and only very cold to freezing weather will stop their destructive ways. Two pairs of mating beetles can produce up to 12 million offspring in a single season.
The beetles primarily attack pine trees in the 2,000 to 5,000 foot elevation range.
Bret Willis, owner of Willis Timber, said it is taking a little longer than first estimated to get all the trees out of the Bass Lake campgrounds and day use areas because of the rapid mortality of the trees.
“The number of dead trees has doubled since late April,” Willis said.
Russell Walsh has been logging in Eastern Madera County for 43 years, and his company is working with Willis on the Bass Lake campgrounds and day use areas.
He said there were droughts and dead trees around Bass Lake in the mid-70s and the mid-80s, but small salvage sales were held for loggers to get in the forest and harvest small patches of dead trees.
“But we’ve never seen what we have today in the region - from Kings Canyon/Sequoia all the way to Sonora,” Walsh said. “They say there are close to 40 million dead trees throughout the region. I say that number will be over a billion before this is over. We can’t cut the trees fast enough to keep up with the dead trees they are marking every day for us to cut down. We think we have an area totally cut, and come back the next day to see more trees marked for cutting.”
Walsh estimates between 3,000 and 4,000 trees will be taken down in the campgrounds and day use areas on the four miles (Road 222) between Recreation Point and the dam.
There’s about 10 companies and 75 to 100 loggers contracted with PG&E and the Forest Service, plus crews working for individual property owners to get the dead trees down - a priority now that fire season is upon us.
80% to 90% mortality
Glenn Barley, the governor’s tree mortality task force leader recently said beetles usually attack about 3% of trees in an area, but some areas are now experiencing 80% to 90% mortality.
One of the biggest challenges for the task force, according to Barley, is what to do with all the trees, since there are very few sawmills left in the state to process them.
Willis feels about 10% of downed trees in the Mountain Area are being shipped to the Sierra Pacific Industries mill in Sonora, with the majority being stockpiled in the forest for later disposal.
It will be about five years when all the standing dead ‘brown’ trees will fall to the ground under their own weight or from a high wind. In the meantime, they stand like ‘Roman candles’ that would add explosive fuel to a fire or cause injury if one was to fall on a person or highway.
Randy Collins is the lead faller for Walsh Timber, and he says it will be 200 years before people see the forests like they once were.
California Land Management operates the campgrounds at Bass Lake under contract with the U.S. Forest Service.
For a complete list of area campgrounds and their status visit: www.fs.usda.gov/sierra/.
Details: U.S.F.S. Bass Lake Ranger District, (559) 877-2218.