Relief may be coming soon for many Mountain Area homeowners left with dead trees in their yards after they were cut down by companies contracted with Pacific Gas and Electric Company.
The trees, killed by bark beetle infestations, were cut down for safety reasons and to protect power lines, but disposing of the trees, in some cases a massive and expensive undertaking, was left to homeowners.
PG&E is currently finalizing details of a contract with a large company while identifying sites where the logs and debris can be hauled to, PG&E spokesperson Denny Boyles said, including lumber mills, biomass chipping yards, and other disposal sites.
Boyles said PG&E will pay for the enormous clean-up effort, but could not predict the expected start dates, or how long the clean-up project will take until the contract is completed. The total number of PG&E customers impacted by the tree removal project throughout 10 counties should be known by mid-November.
The counties include Madera, Fresno, Mariposa, Kern, Tulare, Tuolumne, Calaveras, Amador, Placer and El Dorado.
“Under normal circumstances, property owners are responsible for disposing of trees that PG&E takes down on their property because the wood is the property of the homeowner.” Boyles said.
Boyles explained that PG&E typically leaves the larger wood in manageable sections, and will chip and remove debris four inches in diameter, or smaller, where chippers are accessible.
“However, due to the ongoing drought and the vast tree mortality in our service area, we are going to provide affected customers with expanded debris assistance for the larger wood,” Boyles said.
Details of the plan are expected to be released within the next two weeks. Boyles said affected homeowners will be contacted by PG&E contractors when the details are finalized.
Tree mortality hits 66 million
The PG&E announcement is coming mere days after the U.S. Forest Service increased the estimated number of dead trees in the state to 66 million.
According to the Forest Service, more than 66 million trees have died in California since 2010. That includes an additional 26 million that have died since Oct. 2015.
The trees are located in six counties across 760,000 acres in the southern Sierra Nevada region of the state, and are in addition to the 40 million trees that died statewide from 2010 to Oct. 2015, bringing the total to at least 66 million.
Between 2010 and late 2015, Forest Service aerial detection surveys found that 40 million trees died across California - with nearly three quarters of that total succumbing to drought and insect mortality from Sept. 2014 to Oct. 2015 alone. The areas surveyed in May covered six southern Sierra counties including Madera, Fresno, Kern, Mariposa, Tuolumne and Tulare.
Last fall, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency on tree mortality in California and formed a task force to help mobilize additional resources for the safe removal of dead and dying trees. The Forest Service is committing significant resources to restore impacted forests including $32 million in California to conduct safety-focused restoration along roads, trails and recreation sites.
To date, the Forest Service has felled more than 77,000 hazard trees, treated over 13,000 acres along 228 miles of roads around communities and recreation sites, and created 1,100 acres of fuel breaks. Work on another 15,000 acres is in progress.
Forest Service scientists expect to see continued elevated levels of tree mortality during 2016.
With the increasing size and costs of suppressing wildfires due to climate change and other factors, the very efforts that would protect watersheds and restore forests to make them more resilient to fire in the future are being squeezed out of the budget. Last year fire management alone consumed 56% of the Forest Service’s budget.