Various officials say Cambria doesn’t need to be a “member” of California’s Tree Mortality Task Force to qualify for emergency funds allocated to areas impacted by devastating tree die-off in California.
But competition for that $15 million is stiff, especially from hard-hit areas in the southern Sierra Nevada area, where, as of June, the U.S. Forest Service had identified an additional 10 million dead trees in six counties across 760,000 acres. The service’s report estimates that, statewide since 2010, more than 66 million trees have died because of drought, beetle infestation and rising temperatures.
“Tree die-offs of this magnitude are unprecedented and increase the risk of catastrophic wildfires that put property and lives at risk,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said as he sought congressional funding to battle the problem.
Locally, with fires to the north and south sending smoke into the North Coast atmosphere again, and October ahead (with its possibility of hot, dry “red-flag-warning” weather and offshore winds), officials in Cambria and elsewhere continue focusing on how to improve the community’s conjoined fire-risk and public-safety hazards within the North Coast’s aging but cherished native Monterey pine forest.
Tree die-offs of this magnitude are unprecedented and increase the risk of catastrophic wildfires that put property and lives at risk.
Tom Vilsack, agriculture secretary
In past months, various officials had focused on getting Cambria a seat at the state’s Tree Mortality Task Force table, so to speak, to better compete for funding that could help property owners, both official and individual, who must deal with dead and dying trees impacted by drought, beetle infestation, pitch-canker fungus and other diseases.
Cambria’s forest has been hit especially hard because many of the tall Monterey pines are already near the end of their short (for a tree) lifespan of 80 to 100 years.
At the same time, those officials and others want to make sure the treasured forest survives and flourishes, and that all viable trees are preserved and protected. The North Coast’s 3,400 acres of trees are in one of three remaining native Monterey pine stands on the U.S. mainland, and one of only five left in the world.
County Supervisor Bruce Gibson, Cal Fire forester Alan Peters and other area officials say state representatives have said the Cambria Community Services District can apply for some of the $15 million in funds set aside to help mitigate the fire risk from millions of dead trees, many of them in the Sierra.
State officials and the task force are well aware of the situation in Cambria.
Bruce Gibson, San Luis Obispo County supervisor
Gibson, Peters and others say the crucial difference between the Sierra crisis and Cambria’s is people. Most of the affected Sierra forests are in wildland. Much of the North Coast’s forest of pines and oaks is interlaced with neighborhoods and about 6,000 residents.
“State officials and the task force are well aware of the situation in Cambria” and the dangers that the dead and dying trees pose to public safety, Gibson said Friday, Sept. 16.
Peters shared that same observation recently with the Cambria Fire Safe Focus Group, in which representatives of various governmental, nonprofit and other fire-aware groups urge residents to be prepared for the worst while working with officials to help prevent it.
He said in a phone interview Monday, Sept. 19, that Cambria’s services district “is eligible now” to apply for some of the state funding. The state already considers the community to be an area of high fire hazard, he said, unlike the rest of San Luis Obispo County, which would have a tough time qualifying as a “high priority” county for the funding.
“The only advantage those high-priority counties have,” he explained, “is they get the first bite at the funding apple of $15 million statewide,” with $11 million of that set aside for the high-priority counties who are represented on the Task Force. “The rest of the state will share in the other $4 million.”
But if the county Fire Safe Council or Cambria’s services district applies soon for part of that lesser amount, Peters said, “they’ll probably get approved. They’ve gotten enough attention” about Cambria’s die-off to be high on the state’s radar.
Work in Cambria’s forest continues to remove dead and dying trees and reduce fire risk. Cal Fire, CCSD and Greenspace — The Cambria Land Trust are among the sponsors of that work.
At the services district board meeting today (12:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 22, Veterans Memorial Building, 1000 Main St.), Cal Fire Forester Alan Peters will give a chronological report about those accomplishments and plans for future work in the forest.