As if it wasn’t horrible enough to have lost their homes in August’s CZU fire, now many property owners in Bonny Doon are reporting that over-zealous tree cutters are removing healthy trees without their permission. First PG&E came through in September and cut massive numbers of burned and healthy trees to protect their powerlines and the right of way. In October, a moratorium was issued by a judge responding to property owner’s complaints that PG&E was over-cutting massive swaths of forest supposedly in pursuit of the goal of safety, but some alleged, in pursuit of reducing liability. At one point PG&E said they planned to log over 1 million trees in California. The power company was fined thousands of dollars by the Coastal Commission for clear-cutting swaths of forest that hadn’t even burned.
With over 86,000 acres of forest burned in the Santa Cruz mountains, there were thousands of dead trees that did threaten power lines and roads. But, was this logging plan based on solid forestry or ecological best practices or fear of future lawsuits? Sadly, that was only the first cutting operation.
According to local residents, more recently, a private sub-contractor for the State of California, Anvil, took down many healthy giant oaks, madrones, and redwoods on private property with barely any burn scars. Arborists, also hired by the state, made the final call about which trees were going to eventually die, and approved their removal. The word was, if you signed up for public assistance to clear your burned property, you also lost control over which trees would be logged. Did residents miss the fine print, or was this a loophole so big logging trucks could drive through it?
Each agency or sub-contractor seemed to have its own set of criteria about which trees to tag and remove, and why. One worker for Anvil said, because they would be fined $10,000 if they damaged a live, healthy tree while felling a burned one, they were taking the healthy trees out near the bigger, burned trees. This kind of logic is what caused an uproar among people who felt they’d lost control over which trees they wanted to keep on their own land. Residents were further confused by a rainbow of tagging colors and ribbons, with scant communication from the myriad logging subcontractors as to why, when, and how these trees would be removed.
In some cases, property owners, such as Troye Welch, living elsewhere because he had lost his home, arrived to find completely healthy trees gone. Another homeowner, Lisa Uttal, says she and her husband had been assured by CALOES, CALrecycle, and ANVIL they could keep and mill the logs that had been cut, only to find them gone, with no idea who had taken them. With the price of lumber vastly inflated, this cost her thousands of dollars. Another resident was so concerned, she enlisted dozens of neighbors in shifts to “tree-sit” her trees to ensure nobody cut them down while she was at work.
Both CAL OES and CALRecycle, as well as Santa Cruz County representatives, were invited to be on the show but declined. One questioned why I was doing the show at all because the story was “over” From these interviews, that does not appear to be the case.
The following is a statement sent to me by a CALrecycle representative Lance Klug, who declined to be interviewed.
“While we’re unable to join you for an interview, I do want to clarify some points to make sure you have accurate information about the current disaster debris removal efforts in Santa Cruz. As you’re well aware, the 2020 wildfires have devastated 4.2 million acres of California and left thousands of Californians with a sense of immeasurable loss. Structural debris removal is nearing completion in Santa Cruz, but many fire-damaged trees are still a hazard to the public. Structurally compromised trees damaged by wildfires can threaten lives. California relies on contractors who employ arborists with the highest level of certification to determine which trees are a danger to the public and must be removed.
- Licensed timber operators only cut trees that have been identified as a danger by the expert determination of these arborists.
- Arborists do not work for the timber operators.
In light of concerns brought by Santa Cruz wildfire survivors about protocol for identifying dangerous trees, last week the state paused tree felling in the county to confirm that private contractors are following all state protocols to protect the health and safety of the public while preserving Santa Cruz’s beloved trees to the greatest extent possible.
Property owners will receive a phone call 24 to 48 hours before timber operators are scheduled to be on their property and are encouraged to raise their concerns related to arborist assessments. ”
Fire survivor, Troye Welch says he never got a call and feels the real problem is too many agencies and private companies not communicating with each other or with homeowners. In the future, these residents all hope when the next fire hits, and it inevitably will, that they are treated with the respect owed a community that has already lost so much, and now feels under siege.