CONE members focusing on drought, insect affected trees

RANCHO SANTA FE — During the Rancho Santa Fe Association board meeting on Aug. 4, Bill Beckman, the chairman of the Committee on the Natural Environment (CONE), made a presentation to the board and Covenant members on the topic of dead and dying trees in the Ranch. According to Beckman, the community forest has diminished and continues to be a threat.

While CONE is implementing strategic plans to help matters, they’ve received support from various entities that took part in the presentation offering their viewpoints. Guest speakers included Arnold Keene, field operations manager at the RSF Association, RSF Fire Chief Tony Michel, Mike Bardin, general manager of the Santa Fe Irrigation District, and Laurie Broedling, executive director of Tree San Diego.

Keene started off by saying that he has been involved with the CONE Committee since its 2012 inception.

“I have been fully supportive of their concepts, ideas and goals to manage and protect the Covenant forest,” he said.

Keene noted a decline in the forest and believed that any efforts on behalf of the Covenant forest should be increased to a higher level. He cited that the drought and the insects affecting the Red Gum Eucalyptus trees are a primary concern and are receiving the group’s focus at this time.

According to Keene, they are removing dead and dying trees at the fastest pace they have ever done in years. He described the dead tree removal as aggressive and said that last year’s count was more than 300 trees.

This year, Keene estimates that number of removing dead and dying trees will jump from 400 to 500.

“Additionally, we are replanting trees,” he said. “I wouldn’t say on a one-to-one basis, but we are substantially replanting areas that are appropriate for trees along roadsides.”

Keene said they have supported CONE and will continue with the efforts.

Michel told the board and Covenant members that he has also been involved with the CONE committee since it was first established.

“In the CONE committee, we’ve had opportunities to collaborate with them to help educate the public,” he said. “Our top priority right now in the fire district is the dead and diseased trees. The majority of those dead and diseased trees, probably about 90 to 95 percent of them are on private property in the Covenant. We need to address that fire hazard.”

Although these trees may be on private property, as far as Michel was concerned it was still a community issue. Michel said continued efforts are needed through the CONE committee and to address this problem and make it a top priority.

According to Michel, they have four inspectors in the area.

“Our arborist and an urban forester have been on the CONE committee. We have just hired an additional forester from San Luis Obispo, who just graduated in forestry to help address this issue,” he said.

Michel said that being partners with CONE have made these efforts a lot easier in regard to public outreach and education.

Like the others, Bardin said that the Santa Fe Irrigation District has been involved with the CONE committee since 2012. Bardin said both he and his staff have attended the meetings hosted by CONE.

“We’ve been working with CONE since the beginning and we’re supportive of their efforts,” he said, noting the nexus between water, fire, community and plants.

Bardin said that their piece to the puzzle in regards to water conservation was the landscape transition. Getting the right trees and being water efficient has been the contribution effort from their agency.

Bardin noted that the other important component was that CONE has a long-term perspective that aligns well with the water district. He believed that outreach and forums raise everybody’s level of awareness about what’s going on with current conditions.

“They’re not easy. But I think it’s been a great start and we fully support what Bill and the committee have been doing,” Bardin said.

Broedling said that Tree San Diego was a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization. She went on to say that their nonprofit exists to help contribute in making the region’s environment and the people in it healthier, safer, and more sustained.

The goal to having a high quality urban forest, she said, was to have the right trees in the right places.

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