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Jill Baker: Save the trees

Jill Baker | Other Voices


It has saddened me deeply to see the trees in our community felled by the thousands. In the name of fire safety, PG&E has completely run amok. For years PG&E neglected proper maintenance protocols and, while it’s good to see them finally taking action, it appears that they are employing a “take no prisoners” approach. There is simply no precedent for the annihilation that is occurring now on our watch. Needless to say, the recent fire devastations have made everyone fearful, and people generally seem reluctant to speak out about the massive holocaust happening on our own properties.

On my street alone the character of the neighborhood has been altered for generations, and now I literally ache as I drive through our neighborhood viewing the carnage that was once a lovely and inviting woodland setting. It is particularly noticeable now in the heat of the summer how important these trees are in providing the cooling micro-climates that we depend on during these ultra-hot months. Everyone wants a fire safe community! Yet, common sense would say that killing thousands of trees on the chance that one might cause a problem someday is insane.

Particularly, since PG&E has recently installed new EPSS safety switches in high fire risk areas that shut of power within 1/10th of a second if a branch should fall onto a powerline. They estimate that that it should reduce incidents by 80%. There are other solutions that might make more sense in some areas, like undergrounding the lines or realigning the power poles to miss dense tree areas that are aesthetically important. Imagine how many lines could have been undergrounded for what they are now spending on tree removal! Another thing all communities should be doing is encouraging the Forest Service and fire departments to focus on clearing all the dead trees that add considerably to fire fuel load.

My husband and I spent considerable time with the consulting arborists, discussing their process for determining tree removal. While they have a somewhat “logical” rating system that assesses such things as proximity to power lines (12’), the health of the tree, whether the tree is leaning in an unfavorable direction, etc., the system itself is aggressive in favoring removal over pruning and redirecting growth. Since it is often quite possible to redirect the growth of the tree canopy if certain branches are a threat, this approach certainly should be the first choice for healthy trees outside the 10’ PG&E easement.

Yet, countless healthy trees are taken for being too tall and many trees that should be marked for pruning only are taken on the “assumption” that the tree won’t recover if 1/3 of the canopy or more is removed. Such decisions are “best guesses,” not facts, and are certainly debatable. I have seen trees that were cut to the ground “crown sprout” afterwards. They are sentient beings with a will to live, (Anyone who hasn’t read the book “The Secret Life of Plants” should do so. It is very eye opening.) and don’t get me started on the wildlife impacts! Most of the trees that were cut down on our property were outside the PG&E easement. One large oak was taken on the chance that it might strike the base of a guywire if it should fall. It was nearly 40’ away from any power line and well outside the easement. We were promised that the removal crew would advise us on the specific trees to be removed beforehand, but that didn’t happen.

Best practices for fire safety are on all our minds right now and I am not suggesting that anyone be irresponsible about fire safety measures. Since the Paradise fire, the public has been more vigilant than ever before about property maintenance and brush clearance, and if they are not, insurance companies have stepped in in recent years and required it before policy renewal. So to see indiscriminate butchering and even clear cutting in some areas is deeply disturbing. While PG&E can pretty much do what they want in their easements, we were told that property owners do have the right of refusal for disputed trees. We became Refuseniks after we decided that PG&E had betrayed the spirit of the task they were there to do and taken more than their quota on our property. I encourage others to stand up and say “NO” to the “overkill.”

Jill Baker lives in Grass Valley


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