EID is committed to preserving and managing its forest land for not only for the health of our watershed, fire protection, and the prevention of spreading disease and pest infestation, but also for the protection and safety of our workers and the public.
The District works collaboratively with federal, state, and county agencies like the U.S. Forest Service - Eldorado National Forest, El Dorado County and Georgetown Divide Resource Conservation Districts, and CalFire. EID has the longest ongoing contract on record with CalFire.
In February 2014 the District declared an emergency due to drought conditions. The state of California has experienced years of drought conditions that have weakened trees and made them susceptible to an intense bark beetle infestation. Our region has also experienced record-breaking forest fires due to these conditions.
Pests — The Bark Beetle
Although there are many diseases and pests that can cause tree mortality, the bark beetle has become dominant among California's stressed pine trees.
In normal conditions, pine trees can protect themselves from many microorganisms by producing sap that pushes the pest out. With multiple years of drought the trees have not had access to the moisture required to produce enough sap to protect themselves. By the time you see brown needles on the trees it's too late for the tree, and the beetle has moved on to its next victim. The beetles also transport fungi, bacteria, nematodes, and other associated organisms that break down tree material at an accelerated pace.
Those who live and recreate in or around forests are aware of the dangers of wildfires. The drought and beetle infestation has intensified that probability with dead or dying trees. Low water levels have limited access to much needed moisture from underground springs and brooks. In 2014, El Dorado County suffered from two large wild fires: the Sand Fire and the record-breaking King Fire where we lost almost 100,000 acres. Removing dead trees, underbrush, and keeping our forests healthy is a top priority for EID to maintain public safety.
The State and Local Response
On October 30, 2015, Governor Brown proclaimed a State of Emergency because of unprecedented tree mortality due to drought conditions and bark beetle infestation. The Governor ordered all state agencies, utilities, and local governments to undertake efforts to remove dead and dying trees for the protection of the public and infrastructure. For purposes of carrying out that directive, the Governor's emergency declaration suspends applications of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) for actions taken by local agencies where the state agency with primary responsibility for implementing the directive concurs that local action is required.
Subsequently, the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors proclaimed a local emergency due to tree mortality on March 28, 2016. El Dorado County has been elevated from a "transitional county" to a "priority county" by the State due to the significant and growing increase in the severity of tree morality.
The District's Response
Since 2014 the District has been working diligently to protect healthy trees from becoming infested. In the fall of 2014 and 2015, the District removed over 45 trees within Sly Park Recreation alone for safety. In the Spring of 2016, in an attempt to protect over 100 high-value trees from the beetle, we employed an experimental "push-pull" pheromone. This technique is experimental and yielded limited success. While the majority of the trees that were treated with the pheromone survived, many more trees were attacked.
On October 24, 2016, EID's Board of Directors authorized an emergency timber harvest. In 2016 tree mortality dramatically increased and within the Sly Park Recreation Area there is a conservative estimate of 400-500 dead or dying trees. The District is not staffed or equipped to manage a tree removal project of this size. EID has worked with CalFire, applied for grants, and sought funding through the California Office of Emergency Services. Removing the dead and dying trees will help isolate healthy trees and hopefully prevent this pest from continuing on its devastating path.
Timber Management Authority
The management and harvest of timber in California is heavily regulated under the Z'berg-Nejedly Forest Practice Act of 1973. In normal conditions a timber harvest would require the development of a management plan to be submitted to the Board of Forestry and Fire Protection. Under the Governor's 2015 Emergency Declaration, an exemption has been made under section 1038(k) of title 14 of the California Code of Regulations for harvesting dead and dying trees in response to the drought and beetle infestation.
Storms of 2017
Fortunately, and unfortunately alike, 2017 hit us with some wild and wet weather. Although grateful for the needed rain to replenish our lakes and rivers, too much too fast brought its own devastating affects. High winds combined with rain and snow created flooding, slides, and brought down trees and entire roads. These conditions prevented EID from beginning the timber harvest until later in the season. Repairs for storm damage are also continuing through the District and within Sly Park Recreation Area.
The Future Years
Though it has been devastating to see, there is promise that the forest will regrow. We can look at areas that were harvested three to five years ago and you can see how healthy the trees are, and the beautiful undergrowth that can be managed with prescribed burns to prevent wildfire.
Eldorado National Forest (Al Jazeera 9/17/17) - More than 100 million trees destroyed in California forests [VIDEO]