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CONE stresses importance of healthy Rancho Santa Fe Covenant forest

The tree cover in 2001 versus today on Linea del Cielo.
The tree cover in 2001 versus today on Linea del Cielo.
(Courtesy)

The Rancho Santa Fe Association’s CONE committee is urging the community take action for the future health of the community’s forest. Bill Beckman, the committee chair, presented a plan to tackle the fire risk and aesthetic effects of dead and dying trees throughout the Ranch to the RSF Association board at its Aug. 4 meeting.

Beckman was one of the three founders of CONE (Committee on the Natural Environment) and has served as the CONE chair for four and a half years.

“We have a very visible problem within the forest today. It is especially evident in the western and central parts of the Covenant where you can see the forest is clearly threatened and diminishing,” Beckman said. “Twenty years from now our community residents will either say ‘They could’ve done something to save our forest’ or ‘Thank goodness we did take action.’”

Beckman said that the problem will not correct itself. He said action needs to be taken to remove dead and dying trees and to plant new ones that will thrive in the future and maintain the overall beauty and character of Rancho Santa Fe.

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Trees have been dying off in the Ranch due to the prolonged drought and insect infestations, such as the red gum eucalyptus lerp psyllid.

“When we drove through the Ranch 15 years ago on Linea del Cielo, we drove largely under a dense canopy providing shade and dappled sunlight on the road,” Beckman said. “Today there is virtually no shade on Linea.”

Beckman showed before and after aerial photos where it can be seen that tree cover in the Ranch is diminished, particularly on the trails and public areas.

The Ranch’s signature tree, the eucalyptus, has become especially susceptible to insects and drought and is no longer sustainable, said Arnold Keene, Association field operations manager.

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Keene said the Association has stepped up its efforts regarding the trees in the past few years. Tree removal has been “aggressive” — last year the Association removed over 300 trees and this year tree removal looks to be in the 400-500 range. The Association has also been replanting trees where appropriate, along roadsides and where irrigation is available to maintain them.

RSF Fire Chief Tony Michel, who has been a part of CONE since 2012, said the district’s goal is to have a fire-safe community, which can be achieved through enforcement and tree abatement and education.

“We are in fire danger,” Michel said. “Our top priority is dead and diseased trees. The majority of those dead and diseased trees, probably about 95 percent of them, are on private property in the Covenant. We need to address that fire hazard.”

Michel’s main areas of concern are along evacuation routes out of the community and defensible space within 100 feet from homes. The district’s inspectors, arborist and urban foresters are addressing the issue as quickly as possible and will be enforcing and citing homes with dangerous trees.

Maintaining a healthy forest is important not only from a fire safety standpoint but also for property values, Beckman said. He pointed to a study that showed homes in an area with mature and healthy trees sell for 20 to 30 percent more than similar homes in an area without them. As the average price of a home in the Covenant last year was $2.5 million, without a healthy forest the average sale price would be $500,000 to $750,000 less.

CONE members would like the Association’s support to craft a strategic plan that would detail the steps and resources required. They have prepared a request for proposals for consultants that would help draw up the plan, an estimated cost of $25,000 to $40,000. Beckman said they would request the Association commit some funds for the plan but they also have tentative funding from the Rancho Santa Fe Foundation.

Along with the strategic plan, CONE would also like to have community education events, a tree steward program and tree planting events. A first successful event was held in January with Tree San Diego and the Stanford Club of San Diego — CONE volunteers planted 25 trees. Beckman said they hope to have another tree planting event this year.

“We need to assure that future generations of Ranch residents have a beautiful community in which to live through us planting trees today,” Beckman said, “It’s us. It’s now.

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