Lions Club to Help Homeowners Remove Dead Trees

Chris Bateman
By Chris Bateman September 15, 2016 13:46

It was like moving to paradise. Your mountain retirement home was surrounded by towering ponderosa and sugar pines, offering shade, beauty and a calming sense of being away from it all.

That has all changed. Ravaged by four years of drought and ravenous bark beetles, more than half your trees have died. Some are close enough to fall on your house, and all that brown, brittle timber ratchets up summer fire danger.

You check with local tree services and learn that removing the dead pines runs about $1,000 per tree. On a fixed income, it’s something you just can’t afford. Your paradise suddenly seems a bit lost.

But it may yet be saved thanks to a new community project in the planning stages. The Tree Mortality Aid Program (TMAP) will help fixed-income retirees and low-income handicapped homeowners get hazardous trees removed.

“Our priority is life and property,” says Glenn Gottschall, a four-decade U.S. Forest Service veteran who served 16 years as deputy supervisor of the Stanislaus National Forest. “Removing any tree that could fall on your house or injure anyone will be at the top of our list.”

Gottschall and fellow Sonora Lions Club member Tom Penhallegon came up with the idea. The Sonora Area Foundation will help with fundraising, and Area 12 Agency on Aging in the coming months will begin to screen home-owners for eligibility. Another partner is Tuolumne County’s Tree Mortality Task Force, and a number of other service groups have pledged to help.

“We want to bring all the nonprofits in Tuolumne County together to raise money for the effort,” says Penhallegon, a five-year county resident and retired businessman who helped organized kitchens for various disasters, including the Rim and Butte fires.

“It’s hard to calculate the cost of removing these trees, but initially we’re figuring at least $2 million,” says Gottschall, adding that contributions, matching funds and grants will be sought, and that loggers and tree services will be asked to offer discount prices.

The number of dead trees to be cut is also elusive, although organizers estimate the project will remove at least 2,000 pines. Not elusive is the fire danger the dead timber presents. “These pines can go up like flaming candles,” says Gottschall, who is also president of the Highway 108 Fire Safe Council. And those trees can quickly transform a ground fire into a raging blaze in the canopies of tall trees.

On the other hand, cutting the pines, but leaving dry limbs and rounds on the ground, also provides fuel. That’s why the program’s goal is both to cut trees and remove slash. Under the plan, says Penhallegon, homeowners will sign agreements to allow loggers to remove all rounds and slash – unless they want to keep the logs for firewood.

“This area is full of retirees who moved here to live out their lives,” he continues. “They weren’t expecting to pay out thousands and thousands of dollars to have their trees taken out. That’s where we’re going to try to help.”

Gottschall says a “perfect storm” – four years of drought, lack of snowpack, compromised root systems, a growing beetle population and scorching summer heat – have  produced a record ponderosa, sugar pine and incense cedar die-off in a sprawling 2,500-to-5,000-elevation dead zone running the length of the Mother Lode.

The Stanislaus Forest alone, experts estimate, has likely lost five to 10 trees per acre. That’s four million dead trees on this forest alone. Penhallegon knows that it’s much more than a Tuolumne County problem. “My intention is to carry this to other counties once proven here,” he says. “It can be done, and we will find a way.”

Call the Tree Mortality Hotline at (209) 533-6394 for more information. Donate to TMAP at Sonora Area Foundation,

Copyright © 2016 Friends and Neighbors Magazine

Chris Bateman
By Chris Bateman September 15, 2016 13:46
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