State grants help Tulare County cut down on fire risk

Tulare County receives $1.3 mil. to remove dead trees surrounding five mountain communities

By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN

TULARE COUNTY – The state government is pitching in to help Tulare County cut down its fire risk in the epicenter of the tree mortality crisis in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

At its Oct. 30 meeting, the Tulare County Board of Supervisors accepted five CalFire grants to remove dead trees from the forest lands surrounding the mountain communities in eastern Tulare County. Known as California Climate Change Investment Forestry Health, the grants are intended to prevent wildfires and reduce the severity of wildfires in high tree mortality areas by removing concentrations of dead trees, creating defensible spaces, and cutting fire breaks around communities and along evacuation routes.

Tulare County Fire Chief Charlie Norman said the grants totaled $1.3 million and cover the communities of Three Rivers, Posey, Hartland, Silver City and Camp Nelson.

The Camp Nelson project will reduce vegetation and dead trees on 425 acres to create a fire break surrounding the community. This will secure a vital evacuation route for the several surrounding communities as well, including Alpine Village, Sequoia Crest, Cedar Slope and Ponderosa. The cost of the project is $523,000 and will begin in April 2021 and end in November 2021.

The Silver City project will thin trees from 175 acres of the Mineral King area surrounding the community of 2,300 homes. In addition to creating defensible space around the community, the project will increase roadside safety and secure a vital evacuation route. The cost of the project is $200,019 and will begin and end in the summer 2020.

The Hartland project will reduce vegetation within 167 acres surrounding the Christian campground and sparse residential homes. This project will cost $198,290 and begin in August 2021 and end in November 2021.

The Posey project will thin out dead trees to secure a vital evacuation route for the community and several surrounding communities, including Panorama Heights, Poso Park, Sugarloaf Village, and Sugarloaf Mountain Village. The cost of the project is $248,314 and will begin and end in the fall of 2020.

The South Fork project will remove dead trees within 113 acres along South Fork Drive, from the community of Three Rivers to the intersect with Lower Grouse Valley Road. Most of this area is designated as a “high fire severity zone” with portions of the project designated as “very high fire severity zone.” South Fork Drive is the only evacuation route for the 2,000 residents living in the area. The cost of the project is $190,466 and it is scheduled to begin in April 2020 and end in July 2020.

“These projects will go far beyond my career and are a 12-16 year process,” said Tulare County Fire Chief Charlie Norman who presented the item to the board.

The U.S. Forest Service announced in December that an additional 27 million trees, mostly conifers, died throughout California since November 2016, bringing the total number of trees that have died due to drought and bark beetles to an historic 129 million on 8.9 million acres since the drought began in 2010. More than a quarter of the trees are in Tulare County, or just over 25 million spanning across 831,000 acres. The next highest county is Fresno County at 21.1 million dead trees. Four-fifths of the state’s dead trees are located in the Sequoia and Sierra National Forests, which intersect in northeastern Tulare County.

Supervisor Pete Vander Poel called the projects a “good effort” by the state to begin to address the problem, but said the money does not match the scope of the problem.

“This is a drop in the bucket,” Vander Poel said. “I hope the federal government looks at how they can address this problem on their land.”

Chief Norman replied, “It’s a drop in the bucket, but it’s our bucket.”

Chairman Steve Worthley said the only long-term solution was for county, state and federal agencies to begin pooling their financial resources and allow state funds to be used on federal land and vice versa.
Supervisor Mike Ennis made the motion to transfer $165,000 from the general fund for personnel, tools and equipment on the projects. The rest of the $1.3 million will be funded through grand reimbursements. The motion was seconded by Amy Shuklian and approved unanimously.

“As dead trees die out, you will see more and more of them along the roadway,” said Supervisor Mike Ennis, who District 5 encompasses two of the projects. “We need to get those hazardous trees away from the roads.”

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