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Tree Alarm: Forest maintenance in RSF faces challenges

Above: Rancho Santa Fe has an estimated 266,000 trees, 42,000 of which are distressed or dead, according to a study commissioned by the RSF Association. Nearly all the trees in the Covenant are on private property, which poses a challenge in addressing removal and replacement — big issues in case of fire. Courtesy photo


RANCHO SANTA FE — A 300-page comprehensive study was recently completed for the Rancho Santa Fe Association’s Forest Health and Preservation Committee. Spearheaded by Dudek and Tree San Diego, the findings outlined a detailed Forest Health Study. While the study was in the hands of Forest and Health Preservation Committee months ago, Bill Beckman, chair of the Forest Health and Preservation Committee, wanted all Covenant residents to be aware of the findings since many of the end-goals of the study involve resident action.

It’s estimated that 95% of the forest in the Covenant is on private property. The Forest Health Study revealed an estimated 266,000 trees in Rancho Santa Fe. More than 224,000 trees are in relatively decent condition whereas 42,000 of those trees are distressed or dead. Of those 42,000 trees, roughly 10,000 are dead.

“The document was very thoughtful, very thorough, and very well done,” Beckman said. “It addressed Dudek’s side of forest health and composition, and Tree San Diego provided recommended practices.” He said the study took about a year and a half to complete.

Beckman went on to say how the committee was very engaged and instrumental in the study process and focusing on the conclusions.

Beckman said with the estimated 95% of the forest being on private property, the Association and Rancho Santa Fe Fire District has limited control or authority over the removal of distressed and dying trees.

“With that realization, we need to make sure that the community is well informed about the forest and making sure the right things are done,” he said. “The community’s knowledge and engagement in the forest health aspects of our community is important because it can’t be done by someone else.”

Beckman said while the community forest is healthy overall, there are subcategory areas that have faced real challenges. While this past winter had a substantial amount of rain, Beckman said it had been an anomaly to be this wet.

“There is no forecast that it will continue to be this wet — it’s actually forecast by many that it will return to an extended drought state,” he said. “So the drought, and then the resultant drought has had a major impact, and a lot of trees are drought stressed — and, along with climate change, it’s become somewhat warmer out here on average and the rainfall has been diminished — and diseases and pests have taken down some of these drought-stressed trees.”

One of those pests is the red gum lerp psyllid, which found its way to Rancho Santa Fe.

“So, we have an estimated 10,000 dead trees and another 30,000 plus (trees) identified as being in poor health, which is to say effectively they are dying,” he said. “We have a total of 40,000-plus trees that are in the category of dead and dying, and they need to be removed at an appropriate time, especially when they are dead, to reduce the impact of a fire. If there is a fire, and one day there will be, you don’t want a bunch of dead trees standing in the air just spreading the fire more rapidly. It’s dry tinder standing in the air, and the Fire District and the Association don’t have the authority to remove those trees if they are on private property.”

And removing those trees is only one part of the solution — those trees need to be replaced the right indigenous trees. Beckman said this is why the community needs to be involved.

Residents wanting a 30-minute landscape consultation or more information on being part of the Rancho Santa Fe Association’s Forest Health and Preservation Committee can call the Association at (858) 756-1174. Those wanting inspection for vegetation management can contact the RSF Fire Protection District at (858) 756-5971.