Trees are dying in the parks of East Bay. They could cause a fire in neighboring houses
Many trees in East Bay regional parks are dead or dying – likely due to lack of rainfall – and officials fear the trees could catch fire and the flames could sweep through parks and reach neighboring homes .
Trees cover approximately 1,000 acres of the 124,909-acre district and several species are affected including acacia, eucalyptus, Monterey pines, manzanitas and others.
Most of the trees, on about 624 acres, are in Castro Valley’s Anthony Chabot Regional Park, where eucalyptus trees grow in places so close together that game trails do not exist. The second largest concentration, with approximately 177 acres, is in Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park in Oakland.
“It is quickly getting to a point where it is a matter of public safety, with the fire season looming,” District Fire Chief Aileen Theile recently told the Park District Citizens Advisory Committee. , adding: “No action is possible at this stage.
Many trees are found in “interface” areas, Theile said, or where a park adjoins residential neighborhoods, making the fire threat particularly dangerous.
Crews started noticing the number of diseased trees last October during the planned vegetation clean-up.
Since then, the district has conducted a helicopter survey to locate places where trees may be dying and workers have continued to clean leaves, cut branches and remove some dead trees.
A controlled burn was slated for this month at Tilden Regional Park in the Berkeley Hills – where about 62 acres of trees have been affected by drought – and Albany assesses the extent of eucalyptus decline on Albany Hill and best how to manage it for safety and to maintain habitat for monarch butterflies.
Monarchs congregate in eucalyptus trees because the leaf shape on trees allows them to hang on, and the trees protect them from the wind, naturalists say.
“Wildfires are scary,” Lyra Ryan, 23, of Berkeley, recently said as she cycled through Tilden Regional Park. “I would prefer nature not to be disturbed and just abandoned. But I also don’t want people to see their houses set on fire and lose all their belongings.
Urban forest ecologist Natalie van Doorn and plant pathologist Susan Frankel, both from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the forest service at the Pacific Southwest Research Station in Albany, said tree decline is occurring locally from south of San Jose north of Carquinez Detroit.
Frankel and van Doorn are working to scientifically determine the causes, but they suspect it is the lack of rainfall, noting that Drought Monitor – a government map that monitors the location and intensity of drought across the country – shows that the bay area is now under extreme drought. Rain levels for this past rainy season in most Bay Area towns were 35% to 40% of normal.
Lack of rainfall can make trees more susceptible to pathogens and pests.
“There are discolored or dead trees strewn along the main highways in the Bay Area and in many backyards and open spaces,” Frankel and van Doorn said in a joint email. “The pattern of decline and mortality is irregular. There are many areas that still look pretty healthy next to areas with trees that are not colored and have either shed most of their leaves or turned red (dead). “
What complicates matters is that some trees that appear dead can recover because their roots remain alive, which is called “dieback”.
“It’s surprisingly hard to tell when a tree is actually dead,” Frankel and van Doorn said. “A tree may appear with totally brown leaves, or all of the leaves may fall off, leaving a bare crown – but eventually some of those trees may sprout new growth and recover.”
Eucalyptus and acacia trees are known to regrow vigorously when people cut them down, they said.
“In terms of fire danger, a tree with dead leaves on its branches is more likely to burn and will provide fuel to the fire, even more so than a tree whose dead leaves have already fallen,” they said. “However, standing dead trees can pose additional safety concerns if the trees are located near paths or houses and are at risk of falling.”
Along with the Park District and Forest Service, the UC Berkeley Forest Pathology and Mycology Laboratory and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection are among the agencies investigating the cause of the dead trees or weakened and on what should be done about it.
Local organizations, such as the Friends of Sausal Creek and the Friends of Joaquin Miller Park, help identify the location of the trees.
The park district spent $ 2.3 million on vegetation work last year, Erich Pfuehler, the district’s head of government and legislative affairs, told the citizens’ advisory committee. The 21 members appointed by the committee provide advice and recommendations to the district council.
The district has spent $ 20.5 million to control vegetation over the past 10 years, Pfuehler said.
Sources of funding include grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and FF Measure, a parcel tax passed in Oakland, Berkeley, Richmond, Alameda, San Pablo, El Cerrito, Albany, Emeryville, Piedmont, El Sobrante and Kensington in November 2018.
The Oakland Hills Firestorm of October 1991, which killed 25 people and destroyed about 2,800 homes and more than 400 apartments and condominiums, prompted the district to focus on trees, Pfuehler said.
“With the Oakland Hills Firestorm in 1991, the Park District really determined that we needed a vegetation reduction program in the East Bay Hills so that we could contain a fire more quickly.” , did he declare.