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Hazard Trees Removed From County Roadways

OAKHURST – Fallers and crews from Cal Fire and the US Forest Service were hard at work along Cedar Valley Drive today, removing hazard trees that pose a danger to motorists and residents.

The project is a cooperative effort between Cal Fire, the Forest Service and the Madera County Road Department (Public Works) to get out ahead of the mounting problem of dead and dying trees – a problem that promises to only get worse as the drought continues.

The Cedar Valley project is the first of several that are in the works, including the main thoroughfares in the mountain area such as Roads 274, 222, 223 and 426. Clearing trees along the roadways will head off having them fall and create road blockage or worse, having a tree fall on a vehicle.

Cal Fire crews lining out their projectBurt Stalter, Fuels Management Specialist on the Bass Lake District of the Sierra National Forest, and Len Nielson, Unit Forester for Cal Fire’s Madera/Mariposa/Merced Unit (MMU), both recognized the severity of the issue of tree mortality, and worked together to formulate a plan in cooperation with the County.

“We have prioritized the communities in need,” says Nielson. “Cedar Valley has only one way in and one way out, which makes it a high priority. It’s also a smaller project to start with.”

Neilson says the County is working on an emergency declaration for the tree mortality situation, which would hopefully bring in funding for contracted fallers, and reduce the impact on local resources.

Falling trees along Cedar Valley DriveCal Fire and Forest Service crews are tackling this project while working their normal shifts, and both engines and firefighters are prepared to respond to any emergencies.

The goal was to take down 50 hazard trees along Cedar Valley Drive and Deer Run Trail today. The team will note how many trees they were actually able to fall and clear, how long traffic was stopped for any tree that had to be dropped across the road, and any issues they may have encountered. What they learn will be implemented in calculating the requirements of bigger projects ahead.

Residents of Cedar Valley received MCAlerts last night, notifying them that crews would be working along the road, and to expect delays, which were very brief.

Burt Stalter falling a Ponderosa pine - photo by Gina ClugstonThere were six fallers working today to get the hazard trees safely on the ground, and tomorrow a 13-man crew from Mount Bullion will move in to limb and stack the slash.

Burt Stalter warns that all the pines in the valley may likely be lost by the end of summer, as was evidenced by the stands of red trees along the road. The bugs have moved on from the dead trees, but have a host of new victims ready at hand.

Fungus on Ponderosa pine tree - photo by Gina ClugstonStalter explained that when you see fungus on the bark, as in this photo, or bore holes in the tree with sawdust on the ground below, you know the beetles have already done their work, and the tree is dead or dying.

During the fire season, these standing torches pose a serious problem. When the much-anticipated winter weather impacts areas of heavy mortality, that’s when another type of danger becomes very real.

“Many of these tree don’t look dead, but they are – they just don’t know it yet,” says Nielson. “When the winter winds blow, and the snow adds weight, these trees will break apart and the tops will blow out.”

Dead Ponderosa pine trees - photo by Gina ClugstonHaving a tree fall on someone’s car or home is the obvious potential danger, but downed trees also block roadways, preventing not only the residents from getting in and out, but stopping emergency vehicles responding to fires, calls for police service, and medical emergencies.

Residents are reminded that removing dead and dying trees from their own property is their responsibility. These Cal Fire/Forest Service projects are meant to ensure the safety of the public on county roads.

“Of course we don’t have the funds to fall every dead tree in Madera County, but many hands make light work,” says Nielson of the cooperative effort, “and we need to get out in front of this problem now.”

For more information on how to remove hazard trees from your property, read “Help for Homeowners with Dead and Dying Trees.”

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