Tree mortality isn’t only a Sierra problem.
Fresno County’s parks are losing trees from disease and old age at a recently unprecedented rate.
In Fresno County’s parks, 1,369 trees are dead or dying. The problem is countywide, stretching from Kearney Park to Avocado Lake, Lost Lake Park to downtown Fresno’s Courthouse Park.
A tree fell in Courthouse Park in April. Nobody was hurt, but county officials decided it was time to learn the condition of its trees. The alternative, they reason, is the liability if a tree falls and hurts someone.
The county has enlisted the help of arborists, who are examining trees in parks, medians and county roadways.
Removing the county’s dead or dying trees will cost between $2.7 million and $3.5 million, said John Thompson, Fresno County’s deputy director of public works and planning.
The county is dedicating $500,000 in the budget year beginning July 1 to deal with the problem so tree removal will be prioritized, officials say.
But the problem already is so big that it will take many years of budget commitments, said Buddy Mendes, Fresno County Board of Supervisors chairman.
51Number of trees dead or dying in Courthouse Park in downtown Fresno
The price for the arborists is estimated between $127,000 and $212,000, Thompson said.
The drought is part of the problem, but some trees are just dying because of old age, Thompson said.
He said the county will replace the trees it loses but that will reduce the shade canopy because replacement trees will be smaller.
David Chavez, the county’s parks manager, said that in addition to dead or dying trees, another 4,243 trees are under some form of stress – nearly half the county’s 11,441 trees examined.
Nearly 25 percent of the 217 trees in Courthouse Park are in trouble. Kearney Park has 262 trees dead or dying.
“We’re going to have to do something,” Mendes said. “If we don’t, we’ll have a hell of an insurance claim when a tree falls on someone as it almost has already.”
Mendes said many of the park’s trees are not native species: “Some have a life span of 40 years and should have been cut down 10 years ago.”
We’re going to have to do something. If we don’t, we’ll have a hell of an insurance claim when a tree falls on someone as it almost has already.
Buddy Mendes, Fresno County Board of Supervisors chairman
The problem is cost, Thompson said. Each tree and stump will cost $2,000 to remove, he said.
In Courthouse Park, each tree has been numbered, labeled with a tiny metal plate about the size of a dog license.
The arborists’ report for Courthouse Park confirmed the species and diameter of trees with the youngest trees going unexamined. The examination consisted of a visual ground inspection and recommendations for care, such as pruning, treatment or removal.
A tree with a plate number of “41,” a Blue Atlas Cedar, corresponds to the arborists’ tree list. It describes the tree as in “poor condition” with a “NOW” priority, meaning its issues – “significant dieback (more than 50 percent), significant sapsucker bird damage” – must be addressed soon to save it.
The drought is affecting the tree canopy throughout the Valley and it will take financial resources and experts to help improve the health of remaining trees, said John Valentino, Tree Fresno board chairman.
As a way to save water, Valentino said, many grassy areas are not watered now as they were in recent years because of the drought.
“More and more we see lawns going unwatered and trees are going unwatered along with them,” he said.
The reduction in watering is causing more problems for trees with shallow root systems.
“You can’t say a lack of water is responsible for the decline of all trees,” he said. “But you can’t stop watering and expect them to adapt.”