S.B. County removes one-millionth dead tree from forest
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
By DUANE W. GANG
San Bernardino County felled the symbolic one-millionth dead tree from the local mountains Wednesday and shifted focus to removing live trees and brush in a continued effort to reduce the threat of a major wildfire.
The announcement came as the fire threat continues to increase in the midst of a record dry winter. The scant rainfall has left even live trees and vegetation dangerously dry.
"A thin forest is a healthy forest and a thin forest is a fire-resistant forest," San Bernardino County Assistant Fire Chief Peter Brierty said at a news conference, east of Lake Arrowhead.
A century spent rapidly suppressing wildfires has left California's forests and wild lands dense and ready to burn. Years of drought and a bark-beetle infestation also left millions of trees dead or dying.
Large stands of dead trees posed the most immediate danger, and backed with $70 million in federal grants in 2004, the county set out to reduce the risk.
No one knows for sure the symbolic tree's actual number -- it was felled in a quick, crackling thunderous effort east of Highway 18 in Sky Forest -- but local officials said it illustrates the mammoth task that local agencies undertook.
In front of stacks of logged timber more than 20 feet high, local leaders said removing more than 1 million trees was a major accomplishment.
"It is amazing we have reached this milestone in making our community safer," San Bernardino County Supervisor Paul Biane said.
More Work To Do
On federal land in the San Bernardino National Forest, the U.S. Forest Service also has made progress. Work crews have removed 500,000 dead trees in the same time, estimates forest supervisor Jeanne Wade Evans.
But fire and forest officials Wednesday stressed the work is not done. Local government, the U.S. Forest Service and individual property owners must concentrate on thinning the forest by removing some live trees and other thick vegetation, they said.
Progress has been made in educating the public, according to a survey released Wednesday by the Mountain Area Safety Taskforce, a coalition working to coordinate fire prevention. Nearly 90 percent of respondents said they have taken steps to protect their property.
But more than a third of those surveyed said they thought restoring the health of the forest meant removing dead or infected trees.
Balancing what fire officials call "green fuel" projects with dead-tree removal is key to improving the forest's health, experts said this week.
"If you don't do some thinning, you are just going to end up with the same thing in the future," said Bob Sommer, fuels officer with the San Bernardino National Forest. "You would like a mix of large and small trees so you have a diverse forest that can withstand different stresses."
"If you are going to live in a forest then we have to manage it," San Bernardino County Supervisor Dennis Hansberger said. "Today, let's commit ourselves to the next task: Being good stewards of our forest."
Can't Count on Rain
The lack of rain this year, however, is increasing fire risk, experts said, pointing to this week's fires in Orange and Riverside counties.
Rain for this season, which began July 1, has been all but nonexistent. Riverside has reported just 1.39 inches of rain, down
from the nearly 10 inches that is normal.
The same goes for mountain communities. Big Bear Lake has received 4.6 inches of precipitation through Tuesday, down from the norm of more than 21 inches.
"It is like Mars. That's how dry is it out there," said William Patzert, a climatologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. "The next rainfall here could be October or November."
The short-term prospects for rain don't look good, said Stan Wasowski, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in San Diego.
A weak weather system is expected to move through the Inland area next week but won't bring much, if any, rain, he said.
"That's all we are seeing right now for the foreseeable future," Wasowski said. "Winter will end with it being dry."
Brushy fields typically "green up in the winter" in response to annual rains, Sommer said. But in some places, for instance,chaparral is no more than 2 percent less dry than dead vegetation.
This year, he said, "It is nothing like it should be."
Yet, Sommer still holds out hope. "It still is a little early in the year to predict doom and gloom."
John Miller, a Forest Service spokesman, said work crews typically burn between 2,000 and 3,000 piles of cleared brush a day but aren't burning any now because of the dry weather.
Prescribed burns and pile burns are a cost-effective way to remove fuels, forest experts said. Without them, the brush must be hauled away or chipped.
San Bernardino County Fire Chief Patrick Dennen said he has a "huge concern about the upcoming fire season.
"As far as I am concerned, it is a yearlong effort," he said.
A random telephone survey of 512 people gauging the effectiveness of outreach programs was released Wednesday.
89 percent said they have taken steps to protect their property from wildfire.
86.4 percent said they cleared brush from within 30 feet of their homes.
67.3 percent said they were familiar with the term "healthy forest." 45 percent said the term meant reducing the density of trees and thinning overgrowth.
38.5 percent said the term meant removing dead or infected trees.
Source: Mountain Area Safety Taskforce