Commentary

My Turn: Working hard to protect Sly Park Recreation Area

As a result of California’s historic multi-year drought, the El Dorado Irrigation District has been managing an unprecedented tree die off due to bark beetle infestation. The trees’ natural defense mechanism is to repel the invader by pushing them out with pitch or sap. During a drought the tree cannot produce enough pitch and the beetle is able to lay their eggs in the tree. When the larva hatches, they eat away the living tissue of the tree, just below the bark, killing the tree. Upon maturation, the beetles move on to the next tree and continue the cycle.

Under normal conditions, EID staff, in cooperation with Cal Fire, has been able to manage the watershed and maintain a healthy forest. However, with the onset of the drought, tree mortality has grown to epidemic proportions, resulting in emergency declarations up and down the Sierra Nevada range by Boards of Supervisors, utility and water districts, and the State of California.

EID declared an emergency in the fall of 2016 so that we could harvest the dead and dying trees that threaten the safety of park visitors, district staff, and infrastructure.

For many years EID has been working diligently to protect healthy trees from becoming infested. In the fall of 2014 and 2015, the District removed over 45 trees within Sly Park Recreation Area that threatened public safety. In the spring of 2016, in an attempt to protect over 100 high-value trees from the beetle, we employed an experimental trapping technique using pheromones to repel the beetles from the trees that we wanted to protect and attract them to the traps.

While the majority of the trees that were treated with the pheromone survived, many more trees that were not treated were attacked. Due to an increasing number of dying trees in the summer of 2016, EID felt it needed to initiate a more aggressive strategy. We declared an emergency and began removing the dead and dying trees within the park.

Presently, over 400 dead and dying trees have been removed from Sly Park at no cost to EID or its rate payers. The trees are being transported to the port of Sacramento, placed in cargo containers, and are being shipped to markets where there is a demand for salvage timber.

The salvage timber market in northern California has been saturated with timber from the large wildland fires the state has been experiencing over the last few years. So when an opportunity to have the trees removed at no cost to our ratepayers was available, we seized that opportunity.

The emergency timber harvest has made an unavoidable mark on Sly Park Recreation Area. In cooperation with our timber operator, EID staff and Cal Fire have been working tirelessly to get the park back in shape for the 2017 recreation season. All of the campgrounds, day use areas and a majority of the trail systems are open now. There will be some noticeable differences in the park, even though out of the 190 campsites only 20 were directly impacted. And of the numerous day use areas, only the main day use area near the front of the park experienced any changes.

When you visit the park this summer you will notice areas of disturbed ground, remnants of trees that have been or will be lopped and scattered, some debris along the roadsides that will eventually be burned or chipped, and some large slash piles that we are attempting to dispose of as soon as possible.

It is possible we may lose our window to burn if the temperature begins to climb. If that happens, these piles may remain in place until burn season reopens in the fall. We hope our visitors will understand our need to protect this community jewel.

With time the park will begin to reclaim these disturbed areas and the native ground cover will return. EID is developing a replanting program that will be implemented in late summer and early fall. In a majority of the locations, the natural regeneration process will be all that is needed to return the park to pre-infestation conditions. The thinning that has occurred will be beneficial to the health of the watershed in the long run and will help create a shaded full break, reducing the possibility of a catastrophic crown fire.

This has been a major undertaking, so the cleanup will not occur over night. We appreciate our visitors’ patience and understanding.

EID’s end goal with this project is to create a safer and healthier park and watershed, one that is fire resilient and capable of surviving attack by pests and disease. Is the bark beetle problem resolved? No, but through the actions we took this spring and our ongoing management practices, hopefully we can slow the spread and preserve this valuable resource we all cherish.

EID is committed to working with local agencies and organizations such as Cal Fire, the United States Forest Service, El Dorado County, PG&E, Caltrans, and the Resource Conservation District to create a safe and healthy environment for generations to come.

Please take a look at the Sly Park Recreation Area Facebook page and our Forest Management web page (eid.org/recreation/forest-management) for periodic updates. If you have any questions or concerns please, send me an email, give me a call, or stop by the park and I will be happy to take the time to address your concerns and answer your questions.

Greg Hawkins is Parks and Recreation manager for the El Dorado Irrigation District. 

Special to Village Life

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