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Montecito Fire Protection District
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The Drought And Tree Mortality In Montecito

By Joyce Reed
Jul 27, 2016 at 08:40 AM

The Montecito Fire Protection District is aware that more and more trees are showing signs of severe stress due to the continuing drought. Most alarming is the number of dead trees showing up throughout the District. The diminishing ground moisture, and in some cases completely dried soil conditions, have weakened the defense systems of our native oaks and ornamental pines. Even the hardiest of the tree specimens, eucalyptus trees, are starting to die. 

What is causing the die off? The main cause is moisture stress. Trees weakened by drought are most often attacked and killed by native insects or diseases. A tree’s inability to produce sufficient sap to ward off these attacks is readily observed in dead and dying trees in Montecito from the shoreline to the foothills. 

Will sufficient rain fall or watering help distressed trees? First, it may not be possible to apply additional water to all the trees on one’s property.  And second, we need it to rain.  Although these measures will certainly help, it is difficult to say how soon and how much needed rain will help.  Drought-related tree mortality is known to continue beyond the end of a drought because precipitation benefits are not immediate. It will take time for trees to recover and for the invasive beetle populations to decline. 

It is a pretty bleak picture for a community that prides itself on the beauty of the vibrant vegetation that is such a big part of what we call home. 

Beyond the visible changes to the community’s aesthetics, these trees are a very real safety threat.  Homeowners must keep in mind that a dead tree will come down someday. It may not be possible to accurately predict where a tree will eventually fall. A dead tree may continue to stand for several years, but eventually it will come down. Therefore, all property owners need to make an assessment of the trees they own for tree health and address the liability of having a drought killed tree on your property. In California it is assumed that the liability is the responsibility of the homeowner. 

The District is especially concerned with dead and weakened trees that will fall directly onto roadways and into power lines. Trees and falling branches that come in contact with power lines have the potential to start vegetation fires. If you have dead trees with the potential to fall and make contact with power lines, there may be relief offered by Southern California Edison to help in the removal. You are encouraged to call Southern California Edison to request their support.  

The cumulative effect of dead and dying vegetation is a grave concern in the ongoing protection of your property and the community in the event of wildfire. Dead standing trees provide opportunities for the spread of fire by casting fire brands and embers into the community. In addition, dead, weakened trees and large limbs have the potential to come down during periods of high winds creating safety and access issues for you, your neighbors, and fire department responders. 

The Montecito Fire Protection District asks that you take the responsibility seriously and examine your landscape for drought related die off and come up with a plan to remove dead trees and vegetation.  

The District understands that a large tree removal is both complex and costly. We are available to help assist you in developing a plan for removal. Homeowners should also be aware that the cost of a removing tree can go up if the tree is allowed to continue to rot and become unstable. 

All Montecito residents should have recently received the “Annual Fire Hazard Abatement Notice” in the mail. In the mailer, homeowners will find Montecito Fire Protection Defensible Space Requirements. The expectation is that all residents will complete their defensible space work by June 1st. After June 1st, Fire District Staff will start the process of individual property inspections for compliance to Defensible Space Requirements. Now is the time to take note of what you are required to do to protect your home in the event of a wildfire.

As a result of the ongoing tree mortality in Montecito, the Fire District has developed the following criteria for evaluating dead trees and the need for their removal. 

  • Any dead tree that is located within the required 100-foot defensible space shall be removed.
  • Any dead tree that will compromise access/egress for both the public and first responders shall be removed.
  • Any tree that will compromise community infrastructure (utility lines, water systems, transportation routes) must be removed.
  • Any dead trees located in an established Fuel Treatment Network need to be evaluated for removal.
  • All dead trees located within High Fire Severity Zones need to be evaluated as a potential fire threat to the community.

Please do not ignore this very real safety issue in Montecito.  If there is any consolation regarding this ever growing safety threat, it is that you are not alone.  Montecito, like many communities throughout the state of California, is experiencing the direct consequences of living through this historic drought. 

Fire District Prevention Staff is available to meet with property owners to evaluate dead trees and help you develop a plan for removal.  For more information, please call 805-969-7762.


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