Governor declares state of emergency over dying trees

Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency last week as an infestation of bark beetles and four years of drought are expected to kill off at least 22 million trees in California forests.

“California is facing the worst epidemic of tree mortality in its modern history,” Brown wrote in a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “A crisis of this magnitude demands action on all fronts.”

The emergency order made Friday, Oct. 30, seeks to free up federal funds and assistance to remove the dead or dying trees, which has reached a scale where areas like Cascadel Woods, east of North Fork, has a 90% mortality rate for Ponderosa Pines.

Dead trees also greatly increase the risk of wildfires and dangers to public safety from falling trees for those living in the Sierra National Forest, or other forested communities.

Across California, tree mortality is anywhere from 20% to higher than 90% in various areas. Multiple scientific studies place the number of expected dead trees higher than 22 million, Brown added in his letter to Vilsack.

Madera County District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler said the Govenor’s order was “really important” to help county residents deal with dying trees.

“We as counties, we have no say at all in a lot of how this goes on,” said Wheeler, who visited Brown’s office earlier in the week to discuss rampant tree mortality. “So we went up to talk to him about that to get them off their tail. Hopefully we’ll get some help to get these trees taken care of. It’s a step forward.”

In September, the Madera County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution that declared a state of emergency due to dying trees. Other Sierra counties like Tuolumne and Mariposa did the same, which may have helped push Brown towards the emergency declaration.

In the Bass Lake area, tree removal has been underway for months.

Through a contract with Pacific Gas and Electric Company, Mowbray’s Tree Service from San Bernardino has been cutting down 2,500 of the dead trees from areas that cause danger to power lines. Estimates place the cost of removal between $200 to $1,000 each for trees between 25 to 75 feet tall.

The Governor’s Office of Emergency Services and Cal Fire are forming a task force on tree mortality, which will be comprised of state and federal agencies, local governments, and utilities to coordinate emergency protective actions and monitor ongoing conditions.