The removal of hazardous, dying trees along California’s highways in the Tahoe Basin can now move forward, following approval of an emergency permit by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Governing Board earlier this month.
The California Department of Transportation applied for the permit so it could remove trees posing safety issues along its highways and rights of way in the basin, according to TRPA.
All highways on the California side of the Tahoe Basin have been evaluated by professional foresters and certified arborists to identify dead, dying and diseased trees that pose a hazard to life, property and vital infrastructure.
Caltrans’ request was made as the state continues to deal with a tree mortality crisis.
Several years of severe drought led to widespread tree die-offs, which ultimately forced Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a tree mortality emergency in October 2015.
There are now an estimated 102 million dead trees in California, with the greatest tree mortality in the Southern Sierra Nevada.
Caltrans plans to move forward with the removal of an estimated 875 dying hazardous trees along 67.83 miles of California highways in the Tahoe Basin, including California Routes 28, 50, 89 and 267. Caltrans will work on SR 89 immediately after Labor Day, and begin tree removal on the other highways next spring.
Because tree mortality continues to affect forests in the Tahoe Basin, Caltrans will inspect highways again next year for dying hazardous trees.
Caltrans is reaching out to affected property owners with letters and door hangers that provide information about the tree removal project, according to TRPA. Caltrans must receive permission from all affected property owners before removing hazardous trees from private or public property.
Trees within Caltrans’ right of way, as well as hazardous trees outside the right of way that are tall enough to strike roads, bike paths, bridges, and other highway facilities will be removed at no cost to affected property owners. Property owners who opt out or deny permission assume liability for damage or injury if a tree from their property has been marked with orange paint by Caltrans contractors and falls on a state highway. In similar projects around the state, Caltrans has seen participation rates of up to 98 percent.
Caltrans will work to protect the public during tree removal operations with lower speed limits, on-site law enforcement, lane and shoulder closures during lower-peak travel times, and traffic management plans to reduce travel delays.
Trees with no green growth are considered dead and can be removed without a TRPA permit. Live trees smaller than 14 inches diameter at breast height can also be removed without a TRPA permit. To promote fire defensible space on private properties, TRPA has agreements with all local fire districts allowing them to mark and permit the removal of trees larger than 14 inches diameter at breast height.
Removal of live trees larger than 6 inches diameter at breast height on lakefront properties in the Tahoe Basin requires a TRPA permit.