Bark Beetle: Still Going

Our trees have begun to fall.

Not the big ones – yet – but when we arrived at Mustang Ranch late last week, we discovered that our neighbor Nick had rallied for us all. He went to the tree mortality meeting down in Avery, and came back armed with the knowledge that all the trees lining Mustang Road in front of our properties aren’t actually any of our concern (ta da!). They belong to Calaveras County.

And so, fired up (I love mountain-living next door to Nick), he got the county crew to come cut everything on the easement that PG&E hadn’t already tagged for removal: in front of BOTH our houses. When we arrived, it was all neatly GONE; they chipped all the wood up into nothingness and made it all disappear. All the small (as in, 16 feet-ish) straggler trees, that had been nearly dead from drought a year ago when we bought the house.

Remains of the row of small dead ponderosa pines along the road in front of our house.

Remains of the row of small dead ponderosa pines along the road in front of our house.

It was a pleasant surprise, and a nice way to kick off four days of tackling tree concerns and planning for the future of our property. Nick and I met up on the road on Friday morning to admire his (/the county’s) handiwork and pat ourselves on the back for being the most on-the-ball landowners in Arnold. As we admired our clean easement, we brainstormed a bit about what we might do with it next.

More stones? Groundcover to prevent erosion? Manzanita shrubs?

And then Ryan, our assigned forester from ACRT, the PG&E subcontractor, came by.

Here comes Ryan to the rescue!

Here comes Ryan to the rescue!

We LOVE Ryan. He is a hero in Calaveras County right now, and he just so happens to ALSO be our neighbor. We feel lucky – in a time of ecological crisis, we’ve had easy access to him to help us get our big trees hit by beetles taken care of.

Also, he is just a cool dude. He has probably the most ass-kicking job in California right now, but he does it with a smile. When our dead pines finally come down, we’ve decided we’re going to get drunk with him and his fiancé under our big beetle-impervious incense cedars.

Anyway, Ryan had already been out a few times, but he was back this time to measure and tag our dead pines in the back of our property. At well over 120 feet tall, all but a small stand qualified for removal by PG&E since they were within striking distance of the power line on the road should they fall the right way (which, by the way, would also mean they’d smash clean through our house!).

Ryan tags big pines out back that qualify for removal, measuring their "DBH": Diameter at Breast Height. Our trees were all between 23" and 30" DBH, and most were over 120' tall.

Ryan tags beetle-struck big pines out back that qualify for removal, measuring their “DBH”: Diameter at Breast Height. Our trees were all between 23″ and 30″ DBH, and most were over 120′ tall.

It was a good day for us; by November, PG&E will cut and remove nearly all the dead trees on our property, saving us thousands upon thousands of dollars. And leaving the door open for our cedars and oaks to grow in and have their moment in the ecological history of our little half acre of land.

We are lucky, you see – we live in an area of forest with an already-existing diverse group of trees, and a mixed growth rate. A younger, more drought tolerant forest has already begun to take over on our land. Other areas of California – not so lucky, like this monostand of ponderosa pine in Yosemite Valley…


That filled up the rest of our weekend, by the way – planning for the future. Remember Scot the Arborist? He came back on Friday night. Only this time, he brought his horticulturalist wife (Tamara), and we spent the whole weekend together.

We had lots of conversation about trees – how to ensure our other species succeeded once the pines were gone, what else to introduce to create a diverse and healthy ecosystem at a new hotter, drier 4,000 foot elevation, what kind of groundcover to plant to prevent erosion AND improve soil health, what NOT to worry about (as in me, Lisa) when the loggers came to drop the pines, since they are professionals and it’s not in their interest to start crashing 120 foot pines into other giant standing live cedars and decks and HOUSES, right?


(easier said than done!)

And we ALSO had a lot of fun. For one, we decided what better Saturday afternoon activity was there for a crew like us at a time like this than a trip to the really, REALLY big trees, just up the road?


Giant Sequoia in Calaveras Big Trees State Park. Biiig!!!

So big, we're inside! All of us!

So big, we’re inside! All of us!

Tree crew on tree weekend.

Tree crew on tree weekend.

(luckily, the state park rangers seem to be doing a good job, working their asses off, protecting the park from the beetle infestation swarming all around it)

We made time to get our drink on, too, don’t worry.


Saloon stop.

I mean, in a way, we’re celebrating. We’re celebrating our first steps into a new era as stewards of this land.

It’s devastating, watching what climate change is wreaking on California, but we’ve accepted that there’s no stopping this now; the change has arrived. Nature is laughing at our love of the pine tree; we in California are just the latest to hear her laughter. She’s adding it to the list of things she’s fed up with and will shake off her shoulders in the century to come.

In the meantime, we will keep making the smartest decisions we possibly can in light of the changes upon us, and adapt with the planet in this time of transformation.

Our patch of forest is going to be ready for the future. We won’t be here to see it, but the trees we care for today will.

Sam, watching Ryan in the trees, August 26, 2016.

Sam, watching Ryan in the trees, August 26, 2016.

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3 thoughts on “Bark Beetle: Still Going

  1. Margaret Wisniewski says:

    Wow! It was a veritable “tree nerd” convention at your house this weekend! And it is a science lesson for the rest of us! We should all care so much about the beautiful earth over which God gave us stewardship. Unfortunately, not everyone does, but I commend you for fixing the small part over which you have control. I am glad you are “helping Mother Nature” nurse the beautiful land back to a healthy place for future generations. Who doesn’t love a beautiful green tree under which to enjoy the shade? Generations to come would thank you. And that is a freaking big tree inside which you are standing!! Who could not be in awe of such a treasure? BTW, topping the tree convention off with a stop at the saloon is a great idea, too. Next time, maybe Ryan can join you. Love those trees!

  2. […] Being amazing at caring for our trees. […]

  3. […] We meet Ryan, our new best friend from ACRT (the PG&E forestry contractor), who makes the first of many trips to our property (and immediately regrets giving us his cell phone number). […]

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