Monterey Herald


- By Elise Overgaard newsroom@montereyhe­

Plenty of trees are falling in the forest this winter and Monterey County officials are hearing all about it.

January's storms brought high winds and persistent, soil-saturating rains — perfect conditions for knocking over even the healthiest of trees.

Mayra Tostado, a PG&E spokeswoma­n, said in an email that PG&E responded to over 150 power outages in January in the Monterey area that were caused by fallen vegetation.

PG&E does try to prevent tree-caused power outages. Twice a year in “High Fire Threat Districts,” including Monterey County, they inspect and mitigate trees deemed at risk to fall into PG&E facilities. They've also conducted “fuel reduction projects” over the past five years, trimming and removing defective and hazardous trees and trees in densely vegetated areas.

“Despite the above-mentioned efforts, this storm was so severe and historic that we saw unpreceden­ted failure of healthy trees mainly from extremely saturated soils combined with

high winds,” said Tostado.

Elizabeth Gonzales, the Permit Center supervisor for Monterey County Housing and Community Developmen­t, said that the county saw a significan­t increase in the number of applicatio­ns for tree removal permits this year.

From December 2021 to January 2022 the county issued 36 permits. Only 6 of those were issued in January.

From December 2022 to January 2023 the county issued 55 permits. 24 of them were issued in January. Gonzales said the rains had a lot to do with the uptick in people needing tree removal services.

Some balk at the idea of securing permits and profession­al help with identifyin­g and removing hazardous trees. But the county and local foresters and arborists want to help — and they've got the tools and the know-how to do it safely.

And in emergencie­s, the county says it's OK to act now and process permits later, as long as the situation is communicat­ed to the county.

“If it's raining and a tree is looking like it might become a hazard … if it looks dangerous or looks like it's falling, take pictures, give us a call, send us a photo and get that tree down,” said Gonzales.

The same thing goes for trees that have already fallen. “You don't need a permit for a tree that's already fallen down, but it is a good idea to snap a few pictures and send it over to the county so it's on record,” said Gonzales.

According to Gonzales, getting tree removals on record, even if a permit isn't required, can save time and headaches later on. If a neighbor calls the county to ask if you're supposed to be removing your tree, you want to have a conversati­on with the county on record.

Here's a look at the science of why even healthy trees fall, and what you can do to protect your own property.

Why trees fall over

Frank Ono, who served as the city forester for Pacific Grove for 17 years, is a tree detective of sorts. As an urban forester and a certified

arborist who has worked with trees since 1967, he's good at finding clues in roots and soils and he is an expert at determinin­g why trees fell down. Or whether they might in the future.

One factor is the health of the tree itself. Bacteria, viruses, fungi and insects can all attack trees. But there's also a lot of physics involved.

As trees grow taller, their trunks become levers. “If the wind hits this tall lever, the force pushes the lever over and the tree can uproot,” said Ono.

Luckily, trees have limbs. Those limbs absorb and dampen the energy of the wind and protect the trunk. If a limb absorbs too much energy it can break off, which is why it's common to see fallen limbs after wind storms.

Trees are anchored by their roots, but soil can only hold so much water and when it gets oversatura­ted, things start sliding around.

“When you go to pull a weed in dry soil you usually end up snapping the weed off and the roots are still there. But if the soil is wet and you pull that weed, all the roots slide out,” said Ono. “The same principle goes for a tree.”

Even very healthy trees can uproot if the soil isn't working as an anchor. “The roots just slide out of the ground,” said Ono.

Another major factor in a tree's ability to withstand a storm is its maintenanc­e status.

“A lot of times when I've seen trees fall they were either in a state where they had no maintenanc­e, they were not pruned, they were not inspected,” said Ono.

Pruning is important, but Ono says you shouldn't just start lopping. The pruning method can have major safety impacts. There needs to be space for the wind to move through the branches — it's all about the balance.

“People will take all the lower limbs off the tree and they'll leave a little poodle puff of branches at the top of the tree, it's like a little lollipop,” said Ono. “Talk about a lever that's got something for the wind to catch.”

Calling in experts

So what should a homeowner do? The profession­als say it's worth getting an expert opinion before deciding to cut down a tree. Mature trees can be hundreds, even thousands of years old, and once they're gone they can't be easily replaced.

Permits are required by Monterey County code for pruning more than onethird of the branches or for fully removing native and protected trees like redwoods, oaks, madrones, and California bay laurels. You can call the county to find out if a permit is required.

The county also maintains a list on its website of local licensed arborists (who usually consider single trees or small groups of trees) and foresters (who usually look at larger landscapes — whole forests and their ecosystems) who can help decide if a tree needs to come down.

A profession­al evaluation speeds up the removal process. Gonzales said the county will immediatel­y process a permit on any tree that has been deemed hazardous by an arborist.

And regular inspection­s can catch problems early — which is critical in preventing falls. “Have someone inspect your trees at the end of summer, going into winter,” said Ono. “Just because it's healthy doesn't mean it's structural­ly strong.”

Having trees inspected, profession­ally trimmed, or removed can come with a hefty price tag. But Ono said it's important to keep trees in good shape, and to avoid the trap of false economy.

“False economy is when you say `I don't want to spend any money on that because it doesn't need it.' And then it falls. Because you didn't invest any money into it.”

Inspect your own trees

According to Ono, there are some things a homeowner can look out for:

“You need to look at the soil around the tree and see how secure the tree is rooted in it,” said Ono, “that's number one. Was there previous work done? Were roots cut?

Is the soil lifting on the opposite side? That's a tell-tale sign that something's going on.

“Number two — the base of the tree. Are there cavities? Are there mushrooms growing out of the base of the tree? Big flat-fanned mushrooms usually indicate general decay at the base.

“Number three — work your way up — are there cavities, splits, cracks fissures? Are there signs of abnormal insect activity? Is it “bleeding”, ?

“Number four — look at the branch attachment­s. Are the branch attachment­s nice and secure and openly spaced? That's good, strong structure. Look for weak points.

“Next you start looking at the twigs. Is there dieback in the foliage? Or is the tree really full? Is it too full so wind can't get through it? What's the color of the foliage? Is it yellow and it's supposed to be dark green? That's not good.

“And look at the lean of the tree — anything over 20 degrees you gotta worry about.”

Anyone with questions on permits or a fallen/hazardous tree can call the county at 831-755-5025. The county maintains a list of approved arborists and foresters on its website under the tree removal permit tab: https:// government/department­sa-h/housing-communityd­evelopment/permit-center/permits-fees-types

 ?? MOLLY GIBBS — MONTEREY HERALD ?? January storms brought down several trees on the Monterey Peninsula.
MOLLY GIBBS — MONTEREY HERALD January storms brought down several trees on the Monterey Peninsula.
 ?? DAVID ROYAL — HERALD CORRESPOND­ENT ?? Workers clear a tree that went down on 17th Street in Carmel.
DAVID ROYAL — HERALD CORRESPOND­ENT Workers clear a tree that went down on 17th Street in Carmel.
 ?? MOLLY GIBBS — MONTEREY HERALD ?? A downed tree on Holman Highway was just one of many after several days of wind and rain.
MOLLY GIBBS — MONTEREY HERALD A downed tree on Holman Highway was just one of many after several days of wind and rain.

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