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Committee focuses on dying trees

RANCHO SANTA FE — The Committee on the Natural Environment, or CONE, is a relatively new ad hoc committee that was originally concerned with finding alternative sources of water, educating residents about and encouraging them to plant drought-resistant trees and plants and raising awareness about the diminishing forest in the community. 

While this remains a mission of CONE, dead and dying trees, particularly the red gum eucalyptus that have become fire hazards within the Covenant, have become a new focus.

“We are concerned with the area on the west side that has become a top priority of the Association,” said Pete Smith, Association manager.

Association directors Ann Boon and Anne Feighner founded CONE motivated by concern for long-term water issues.

“We brought that to the retreat a year ago, about finding secondary water for the golf course and finding ways to make the Covenant more drought-tolerant,” Boon said.

CONE originally set out to educate residents about using drought-tolerant trees and plants.

Association Planner Arnold Keene helped the committee develop a long and diverse list of drought-tolerant plants and trees, which can be found on the Association’s website.

“As a part of that, we wanted to do some re-landscaping on Covenant-owned property to show we are planting drought-tolerant plants,” Boon said.

Those plants can be seen at some of the entrances to Rancho Santa Fe and at the entrance of the Osuna Ranch, she said.

The committee soon learned the issue was much larger than just water.

About two months ago, the committee was approached by fire department officials who shared with it their concerns about the fire hazard some of the dying trees in the Covenant had become, she said.

Boon said they were concerned about some of the trees on Cielo heading toward Lomas Santa Fe.

She said she and Feighner brought the concerns to this year’s board retreat earlier this month.

“Now the fire hazards have become our No. 1 priority,” she said.

Smith said the Association owns some of the property on which the trees are found, but the rest is privately owned.

“What it is going to come down to is working with folks on private property,” Smith said.

He said because of the dire financial circumstances within the state, grants are out of the question, but he said the Association will help any way it can.

“We will educate the homeowner and see if there is a way we can work together as a community to get rid of the trees or if there is some way we can help minimize their cost,” Smith said.

One of the ways is perhaps using the wood chips from the trees for local trails.

Long-term objectives for the CONE have changed a little, Boon said.

“We have kind of these different threads and little paths we are moving along,” she said.

“We have made a lot of progress and the staff has put in a lot of time,” Boon said. “I cannot speak highly enough about Pete (Smith) and the staff about their contribution to this committee.”

Boon and Feighner will soon go before the Association to determine if CONE can become a standing committee.

The members of the ad hoc committee, besides Boon, Feighner and Keene include Patty Queen and Helen DiZio. Bill Beckman is its president.