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‘Welcome to ground zero,’ foresters celebrate 100 years in the center of Mountain Area tree mortality

Glenn Barley, San Bernardino Cal Fire Unit Chief and head of the Governor’s Tree Mortality Task Force, speaks to a crowd of foresters at Bass Lake Aug. 26 about the issues facing the state with dead and dying trees.
Glenn Barley, San Bernardino Cal Fire Unit Chief and head of the Governor’s Tree Mortality Task Force, speaks to a crowd of foresters at Bass Lake Aug. 26 about the issues facing the state with dead and dying trees. Sierra Star

As the nation celebrated the Centennial of the National Park Service last week, the California Society of American Foresters was celebrating its own 100-year anniversary, but with a more somber tone.

Instead of outdoor concerts or joyous historical presentations, the foresters spent two days surrounded by dead trees in Eastern Madera County.

“Welcome to ground zero,” Madera County Supervisor Tom Wheeler told the crowd of around 90 as he waved towards all the dead trees around Bass Lake’s Wishon Point Campground. “This is it. It’s absolutely devastating to all of us, and you can see for yourself how huge of a problem it is.”

The foresters society, or SAF, spent two days based at Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino, with a tour of the Calvin Crest and Bass Lake areas on Friday for presentations such as the spread of tree mortality, and how to prevent it.

State officials, from forestry rangers to Cal Fire, didn’t shy away from the problems facing California’s forests.

“You just don’t get it until you see it,” said Glenn Barley, San Bernardino Unit Chief and head of the Governor’s Tree Mortality Task Force until June. “I liken it to the Grand Canyon. You can see pictures and hear stories, but until people come out and see how vast the mortality problem is, they won’t understand.”

Barley said the long-term answer to issues such as dying trees and the inherent fire risks was to have a healthier forest through proper management practices such as clearing brush or other work.

“When we don’t allow nature’s forest systems to manage on their own, we need to find a way to step in and try to mimic those,” Barley said. “But until we can find a way to do that, and get it to pay for those management practices, it’s going to be an uphill battle the whole way.”

Entomologist Beverly Bulaon said bark beetles, which have devastated as much as 99% of trees in portions of the Mountain Area, were able to invade due to California’s ongoing drought.

“The drought has homogenized the forest and made it a level playing field for a host of diseases and all insects out there,” Bulaon responded when asked about the sudden rise of statewide tree death. “If the drought continues and persists at this rate then yes, we will start seeing more and more bark beetle mortality in other parts of California.”

The California Society of American Foresters is a scientific non-profit organization focused on promoting the forestry profession. The organization, which also provides educational resources for students, can be contacted at http://norcalsaf.org/ or by calling 1-800-738-TREE (8733).

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