Here’s California’s plan to save motorists from toppling trees at Tahoe

The state is marking dead trees near mountain highways for removal as a safety precaution.
The state is marking dead trees near mountain highways for removal as a safety precaution. Caltrans

California crews will begin cutting down dead and drought-weakened trees along highways in the Tahoe Basin next month as part of a massive statewide effort to remove dangerous trees before they fall onto highways.

Crews will focus on Highway 89, where a tree toppled and killed a Tahoe City woman in her car near Squaw Valley earlier this year during a winter of heavy snowstorms, as well as other mountain highways near the lake.

Caltrans has already removed more than 100,000 dead trees statewide, mainly on state property adjacent to highways as part of a $115 million safety campaign.

The next step, starting in Tahoe after Labor Day, will involve trees on private land next to highways. State Department of Transportation officials say they will knock on doors, asking for permission to come onto owners’ property to cut down dead trees at state expense.

“Permission to Enter” forms will be mailed to affected property owners one to six months after trees are marked, Caltrans said. State officials say they cannot legally cut trees on private property without owner permission.

The state has already begun spraying orange markings on dead and dying trees on private property along highways 28, 50, 89, and 267 around Tahoe, all of which are heavily used by skiers and other winter fun-seekers.

“Safety is our number one priority, and we are working hard to remove any potential threats along our highways,” Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty said in a press statement this week.

Caltrans has identified 10 counties, many in the mountains east of Sacramento, as high-hazard areas for falling trees. Those counties are Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Fresno, Kern, Madera, Mariposa, Placer, Tulare and Tuolumne.

Caltrans’ work is part of a larger state effort involving public and private companies to remove trees that have died from drought or bark beetle infestation. That effort is headed by a state Tree Mortality Task Force, which was established by an emergency gubernatorial order during the drought.

The task force includes Pacific Gas and Electric Co., which has been identifying and removing trees that could fall on its power lines, as well as state and federal fire agencies. Task force members already have felled 640,000 dead trees statewide, many of them in the Sierra mountains.

Five consecutive years of drought have killed more than 102 million conifers and hardwood trees in California, according to the task force.

Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak

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