Tree inspections piling up |

Tree inspections piling up

Gregory Crofton, Tahoe Daily Tribune

Patience is required when trying to secure a tree-cutting permit on the California side of the Lake Tahoe Basin.

In October, a pot of state money dried up leaving no funds to hire state foresters to inspect trees. The job of inspecting about 1,000 properties a season now sits in the lap of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. To conquer the workload, the agency has devoted its tree specialist solely to the inspections.

Right now, the agency is about 200 inspections in the hole, according to Jesse Jones, TRPA tree specialist. The backlog means trees normally inspected before a construction project breaks ground may not get looked at until after a house is built. Foresters often mark trees for removal near a construction site if the thinning promotes forest health.

“I suspect it will be adding to the cost of tree removal later,” Jones said. “(And) people will be starting tree removal regardless. It’s regrettable.”

The agency is trying to address the problem by allowing Jones more time in the field and less time on the phone.

“Jesse has been pulled off all other duties,” said Steve Chilton, TRPA chief of environmental compliance. “He is in the field at least five days a week doing these permits.”

The TRPA may also pay the California Department of Forestry to do inspections at Placer and El Dorado counties this summer.

“Placer County, that’s the longest driving distance we have,” Chilton said. “We use up a lot of time getting out there.”

Chilton said residents who need trees removed because they present a fire danger will have their inspections pushed to the top of the waiting list.

Inspections are, and always have been, free. Two weeks ago, Juan Palma, TRPA executive director, sat down with fire department officials at the basin to discuss requiring a fee for tree inspection. Chilton said that idea was not supported.

California Department of Forestry was in charge of tree inspections before the funding evaporated. Steve Harcourt, resource management division chief, said he, too, is looking for answers.

“If we get the money, we’ll go back in and do what did before,” Harcourt said. “It’s possible we’ll get a contract with the TRPA. I’m up here to serve the people and do the best I can for the forest. We realize people are trying to do the right thing also.”

In the past, CDF secured money for tree inspectors from California’s Forest Resource Improvement Fund. But in July 2001, the fund lost its main source of money when a court injunction stopped redwood and Douglas fir harvesting at the Jackson Demonstration State Forest in Mendicino County.

Forest officials are in the process of creating a new management plan that may or may not allow harvesting to continue.

Proceeds from the timber sales, about 29 million board feet, amounted to as much as $17 million a year.

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