There’s never been any doubt that Cambria’s skyline would change. It always does. When we moved to Cambria in 1971, a wall of glass in our Spencer Street house overlooked the middle-aged forest’s treetops toward a wide view of the hills and valleys beyond.
Someone looking through those glass doors today would see trunks of the forest’s stately but aging pine trees, which now tower over the home.
Soon, the big, old pines will be gone.
A Monterey pine is short-lived, for a tree. Compared to the lifespan of a giant sequoia (said to be more than 3,000 years), a Bristlecone pine (almost 5,000 years), or even a coast live oak (up to 250 years), our pines are short-timers, with a lifespan of about 80 to 100 years.
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That’s how old many of Cambria’s pines are now.
What Cambria’s forest will become next, and when, depends largely on the people who own the land on which our rare, native Monterey pine forest lives, grows and dies.
The properties can be acreage or a 25-foot-wide lot, a sprawling ranch with thousands of trees, an acre with several dozen, or a residential property shadowed by one pine.
That tree belongs to the landowner, who is responsible to care for the tree, recognize when it’s sick and have it treated, and acknowledge when the tree’s life is over and it’s time to remove it so it doesn’t hurt people, homes, wildlife and their habitat, including other trees.
You care for your home, your children, other family members, your pets, your job, yourself, even your car.
You also need to care for your trees.
The responsibilities are as a community, yes, to care for and defend the forest as a whole. But the duties also are individual, with each person in charge of the trees on their own property.
We thought we knew in 1971 what would happen to the forest, as the majestic trees grew upward, grew old, died and fell (or were taken down). The view would gradually change again, back to shorter young trees that had quietly, steadily been taking root and sprouting toward the sky.
What we didn’t expect then was that now so many trees would be dying at the same time, or that some would be the little ones, the forest’s next generation. That’s especially worrisome. Just as a child isn’t supposed to predecease a parent, a small tree isn’t supposed to die before the elder statesman trees do.
In previous droughts, the trees suffered, of course. Bugs and disease took advantage of the pines’ weakened condition, and some trees died.
But most of the 40-to-60-year-old specimens rallied and kept going, even with the pitch canker fungus in the mix.
This time is different. Many of the forest’s trees are old, and without water to help them keep going, they’re drying, dying. For many, even if it rains, it will be too little, too late.
The die-off is happening so fast!
But what are we going to do, and how are we going to do it? It’s a conundrum, and there aren’t many answers yet. Time is short. Summer is nearly here. And the forest’s immediate future looks grim.
There too few firefighters to do all the inspections, even fewer certified arborists, and not many tree trimmers. They’re already scurrying to keep up with current demand. And smart out-of-town crews are wary of exposing their equipment to pitch canker.
Landscapers, too, will be swamped as grasses and weeds already are drying out, and it’s time for the annual exercise of “weed abatement.”
This year, those requirements could include dead and fallen trees … which will increase exponentially the cost of complying with the law, of being a responsible citizen and landowner.
In the meantime, as responsible Cambrians agonize about their trees, others may seek to take advantage of the alarming circumstances. They may opt to remove perfectly healthy trees under the guise of “doing the right thing,” perhaps just to improve their view.
That’s so wrong! Those people chose, as we did, to move into this forest, which is a living entity, worthy of protecting. We are guests in this forest, which, with our help, could outlive us and our children and their children. We must protect those trees that might survive this onslaught of drought and other challenges.
No, we can’t control the weather, even though science says we’re changing it. We don’t know when it will rain, or especially when it will rain enough.
We don’t even really know what will happen to the forest if we do all pull together and do what must be done, painful and expensive though it may be.
But we do know what will happen if we don’t do what’s right. Without our help, our Monterey pine forest could easily disappear forever, reduced eventually to a relatively common assortment of coast live oaks and toyons, brush and grasses.
Will Cambria’s Monterey pine identity disappear forever? Will we let that happen?