The process for private owners to take advantage of recently allocated federal dollars to battle tree mortality was laid out to a crowd of around 40 last week, though an official emphasized the program will not provide rebates, meaning any Madera County landowners who have already cut down dead trees on their land will not be reimbursed.
But Supervisor Tom Wheeler, who hosted the Nov. 10 meeting at Oakhurst Community Center as his final town hall of 2016, advised residents to “save their receipts” should a federal emergency ever be declared on California’s continued tree mortality crisis.
Johnnie Siliznoff, District Conservationist at the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), began his presentation with a simple statement.
“I want to make sure people know this is an incentive program, it is not a rebate program,” Siliznoff said. “We can not cost share or incentivize anything that has already taken place, unfortunately ... we’re sorry to be so hard nosed but that’s just the way this program works.”
In a broad sense, Siliznoff said, the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQUIP) allows landowners to apply for financial assistance in order to clear out dead conifer trees - including pines - and in some cases brush or woody debris, as long as their property is at least one acre and the area that needs to be cleared is a minimum 100 feet from their home.
During his presentation, Siliznoff said in a general sense, some 50% of the work could be covered by federal funds as long as applicants meet the requirements, though that estimation had yet to be finalized.
The process starts by having landowners call the Madera County NRCS office at (559) 674-4628 to set an appointment with staff, who will come to their property and determine whether the trees or brush in need of clearance qualifies for the program.
From there, Siliznoff said staff will guide landowners on the next steps, including filling out four to five federal forms to apply for the program.
All applications in the first wave of the program must be submitted by Dec. 9, Siliznoff said, and his office was ready to help out any property owners with questions or concerns.
Siliznoff’s presentation was followed later by a presentation from Georgiena Vivian, President of consulting firm VRPA Technologies, on the upcoming March 7 vote to approve or reject a 1% sales tax increase for firefighting and law enforcement.
To end the night, when taking questions from the public, Wheeler said he didn’t yet have answers on how to replace retiring doctors and a general decrease in medical services in the Mountain Area.
“I don’t know what to do yet,” Wheeler said. “I’ll try meeting with some doctors to see about the possibility of getting some more to come up here. It’s not like we haven’t tried in the past, but there’s just not money for them in it like there is down in the Valley.”