As work wrapped up last week on mitigating roadway hazards from dead trees along Malum Ridge Road (274), foresters proclaimed a final count of around 1,100 cut down, nearly meeting the goal of 1,200 marked for removal.
It was the largest tree removal project in the history of Cal Fire’s Madera-Mariposa-Merced Unit, forester Len Nielson said, and a great success thanks to collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service and Madera County’s road and sheriff departments.
“This is a huge success for us, and for the residents here in Bass Lake especially,” Nielson said next to dozens of the felled trees. “With all the devastation here, it’s like a huge sigh of relief for safety on this stretch of roadway.”
The project, which started Dec. 1 and ended Dec. 3, had crews of about 75 total workers beginning each morning with a briefing and marking trees for removal, on about a seven-mile stretch from Road 331 near the Bass Lake Courthouse to Central Camp Road.
From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., they cut down the trees, mostly Ponderosa Pines victimized by infestations of bark bettles and continued years of drought.
Nielson said removing the dead trees - which caused some road delays - was important to help keep Road 274, one of Bass Lake’s main thoroughfares, safe from incoming storms, which could cause blockages.
“If one of these trees went down across the road this winter, it would stop traffic for an hour, or more,” Nielson said. “Getting crews and equipment out here, as well as the county and others for road control, you’re looking at long road closures. So it’s not an easy thing to get all of these trees down, but it’s a huge benefit.
“If we get a huge storm this winter, I expect this section of road will be fine.”
Nielson said as far as using the fallen trees, the firewood cutting season closed Dec. 1, but the U.S. Forest Service is looking at extending it to a later date.
The Bass Lake Ranger District is also reportedly making plans for permits to allow people to gather firewood from the downed trees. The office can be called at (559) 877-2218.
Nielson said should more state or federal grants become available - perhaps an easier process given Gov. Jerry Brown’s Oct. 30 emergency order about millions of dying trees - then similar projects will be planned in the future.
“We’re going to try and hit as many trees as we can this winter if we get appropriate funding,” Nielson said. “There’s a lot of dead trees still out there, but at least this area is safer.”
Nonviolent inmates from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation were brought in to help cut down and clear dead trees as part of the project.