More tree removal begins

Crews from Cal Fire and assisting agencies this week began additional work to remove dead trees along several Mountain Area roads in order to mitigate traffic hazards and lower fire risks.

Len Nielson, Cal Fire Unit Forester, said the project started Monday and will further efforts to handle a continued tree mortality crisis throughout California.

Roads in the project span much of the Mountain Area, including: 426; 223; 221; 226; 222; 620; 432; 800; 600; 415; 400 and 233, Nielson said.

Nielson said drivers should expect short delays when work begins on the roadways that affect them.

“We’re looking to not close any road for more than 15 minutes,” Nielson said. “If we do come across an area where we’ll require a longer closure, the public will be notified before the closure begins.”

Because crews can fall trees only around five to 30 feet from the roadway, Nielson asked drivers to slow down and remain vigilant when they see workers in the area.

“The most dangerous part of this is working in or near a roadway,” Nielson said. “People can get hit by cars going by ... we get more accidents that way than anything else.”

By Tuesday afternoon, some 100 trees were marked by the county for removal on Road 221, others on Road 223. By Tuesday, there wasn’t a set schedule for when trees will be removed along each roadway included in the project.

Nielson said the state’s recent release of $500,000 from its annual fire prevention fee, $83,000 designated to Madera County, provided the funds necessary for the work.

The project will last until fire season begins, Nielson said, with around 80 days funded for engine and conservation crews, at work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. Funds must be spent by June 30.

Cal Fire will be assisted in the county project by the Madera County Sheriff’s Office, Road Department, and conservation crews from the California Department of Corrections.

An additional $250,000 allocated by the state solely to Madera County, for the North Fork Biomass Plant, tree removal in Bass Lake, and other fire prevention services, is not included in the latest project’s funding and will be used at a later date.

A plague of bark beetles and ongoing drought conditions are behind California’s devastating levels of tree mortality, with more than 22 million estimated already dead and 58 million suffering from severe water loss statewide.

In Ahwahnee, experts say tree mortality is at 60%, and in North Fork’s Cascadel Woods, 90% of Ponderosa Pines - the bark beetle’s favorite target - are dead.

Such conditions prompted Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency Oct. 30, in order to obtain federal assistance with a looming fire season that many officials have predicted will reach disastrous levels.