Some Cambrians say they’re enraged — and others are in tears — because a contractor for the services district has removed at least 14 large eucalyptus trees on the Rodeo Grounds/East Ranch section of Fiscalini Ranch Preserve.
“I have been crying for over a week about the death of those old beautiful trees, which had so much habitat in them,” said Linda Laylon, who lives above and adjacent to that portion of East Ranch. “That’s what tears at my heart the most.” She said she’s also worried about the loss of wind-break protection the trees provided.
According to Jo Ellen Butler, executive director of Friends of the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, the tree-removal work that began July 30 was in preparation for a recreational community park to be put on a small slice of that land someday, when funds are available.
Creating an active-recreation park on East Ranch was part of an agreement with the county in exchange for $500,000 in park and other funds, money that helped the community buy what is now Fiscalini Ranch Preserve in 2000.
The tree removal had long been anticipated — it was included in the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve Management Plan and the plan for the community park — and discussed at various meetings this year.
The trees were removed so the area could be graded, Butler told members of the Cambria Forest Committee Aug. 13. The work will eventually help redirect runoff that would otherwise flow into Santa Rosa Creek. Part of the graded area could be a parking lot, and another part could be the new home for Cambria’s dog park.
Eucalyptus trees are considered an invasive, introduced species by some, including state Fish and Wildlife scientists. The heavy-limbed, oil-dense trees crowd out native plants and increase fire risk because they burn quickly and explosively.
However, other people love the eucs, saying that the stately trees have been here since the early 1900s and are part of the community’s ecology.
A few community members at the Cambria Forest Committee’s Aug. 13 meeting and others since then have said they felt blindsided by the removal of the tall eucs, which they considered to be “legacy trees.” They said the district hadn’t notified the community the removal work was going to start.
Laylon said she’d received numerous apologies from Butler and Carlos Mendoza, who manages facilities and resources for the services district, for the lack of advance notification.
The Parks Recreation and Open Space Commission (PROS) approved the project and had discussed it at several meetings, including on March 4 and Aug. 5, agendas for which are on the Cambria Community Services District website at www.cambriacsd.org. PROS operates under the auspices of the services district.
The tree removal also was discussed at a July 1 PROS meeting, according to minutes of the session attached to the Aug. 5 agenda. Those minutes state that “the eucs removal will happen after nesting season as the biologist found two nests in the trees. He will do another survey at the end of the month. If the birds have fledged, the trees can be taken down.”
Doreen Blanck of Cambria, a former county planning commissioner, said in an email that “it has to be emphasized that a biological survey was not finalized prior to cutting down trees that had two nests. And the trees were cut down during nesting season (Feb. 15 to Sept. 1).”
Butler said three surveys were done, and the last two showed no birds in the nests.
The euc removal also was discussed and approved at meetings of the Friends group. However, “our sole role is make sure that whatever work is done follows the law and environmental procedures,” Butler said. “We’re not driving the community park plan.”
“Surely the community cares more about the trees than a parking lot,” Lynn Cuny of Cambria said at the forest committee meeting, adding that the eucs “are part of what makes this area special,” and especially in this drought, “we do need every tree.”
According to Steve Kniffen, PROS chairman, the tree removal has been anticipated since 2003, when the management plan and conservation easement documents were adopted by the Cambria Community Services District, which owns the scenic 430-acre property that includes East Ranch.
Blanck maintains there have been many changes in the environment since then.