Diseases and wet ground add up to hazardous trees
For six years, Sue Abrams of South Lake Tahoe has lived in fear that one of the trees on the publicly owned parcel next to her Montgomery Estates residence would topple and crush her home.
One year, a tree came down and landed on her fence.
Then last year, three trees fell and damaged a neighbor’s car.
But then, what Abrams feared most occurred on Nov. 18, when a large tree crashed into her house, causing significant damage.
“It’s not getting any better; it’s getting worse,” Abrams said.
She is especially upset because each year she has appealed to the U.S. Forest Service to remove those trees she believed were hazardous from two parcels next door that the Forest Service bought in 1991 with Burton-Santini funds.
While the Forest Service responded by removing several trees, Abrams said the threat from falling trees has not gone away. On Wednesday, she will meet with Forest Service officials to review the situation.
Abrams has invited the public to attend the meeting, which is scheduled for 9 a.m. at her residence at 1008 Eagle Lane.
Linda Massey, the public information officer for the Forest Service’s Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, said the Forest Service had responded each time Abrams called them, but that the agency cannot eliminate all risk from living in the forest. She said part of the problem for Abrams is that here home is next to a stand of lodgepole pines.
“You can have a perfectly healthy, green tree that looks fine on inspection, but come a strong wind and those trees will snap off,” Massey said. “Lodgepoles are an inherently weaker species than other species.”
The Forest Service has asked Abrams to give them a written request of what the agency should do next, Massey said.
Abrams’ concerns are similar to those of other Tahoe residents. And removing a hazardous tree is not as simple as simply taking an ax to it, said Steven Harcourt, natural resource manager at the Tahoe office of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Because of the protection that the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency has extended to healthy trees, residents who believe a living tree poses a hazard to their life or property must contact the appropriate agency and ask for a hazard assessment.
In many cases, the hazardous tree is located on land owned by the Forest Service, the California Tahoe Conservancy, Caltrans, the city of South Lake Tahoe or California State Parks. The Forest Service, the city and State Parks have their own forestry specialists who will respond to requests, but the California and Nevada departments of forestry will evaluate possible hazard trees on other public lands.
If the hazardous tree is on private land, the property owners must negotiate between themselves. However, if a land owner refuses to remove a hazard within the city limits, the city can issue a nuisance abatement order with attendant penalties for non-compliance.
Harcourt said public awareness of the issue has grown over the last three years.
“The last year, we’ve seen more high, sustained winds than anyone can remember,” he said. Also contributing to a high number of dangerous trees was the drought and insect infestation that killed trees in selective stands.
“Most of the time, if someone believes a tree is a hazard, they’re probably right,” Harcourt said.
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