Rancho Santa Fe Forest Health: First in a series

For nearly 90 years, the towering red gum eucalyptus trees have defined the skyline of Rancho Santa Fe.  Now, after years of combating attacks by the lerp psyllid parasite and struggling through recent drought conditions, the majority of the red gum population is dead or dying.  The RSF Association has determined that bold steps must be taken now, both to protect the community and to preserve the forest of skyline trees that has graced our vistas.

RSF Fire Chief Tony Michel has alerted the Association board and the Committee on the Natural Environment (CONE) that the “Dead and Dying Trees” (DDT) represent a significant fire hazard to the Association and its residents.  He has recommended that the Association begin selectively thinning forested areas where the concentration of dead red gum eucalyptus trees is the heaviest.  This culling process will reduce the fire hazard by reducing the fuel load. In addition, with less competition for scarce water and nutrients, the struggling trees that remain will have a better chance to recover.  The large stand of dead and dying red gum eucalyptus trees in the accompanying photo is in the 5000 block of Linea del Cielo.

According to Michel: “For the last nine years the DDT problem has been increasing and has escalated the fire threat to the community.  In response to the declining state of Rancho Santa Fe’s urban forest, the Fire District and Association are developing strategies that will help in reducing our community’s wildfire threat and which will protect the community from another disaster similar to what we experienced during the 2007 Witch Creek fire.”

At the annual retreat of the RSFA board in August, the board determined that the issues threatening of the health of our forest should be a priority for this coming year.  The Committee on the Natural Environment (CONE), under the leadership of Bill Beckman, has developed a four-pronged approach to tackling the forest health problems.  First, the Association will work with the Fire District to target areas where the density of DDT’s warrants a thinning effort.  Second, the Association will begin selected removal of DDT’s on Covenant-owned or controlled property.  Third, representatives of the Association staff, as well as RSFFD staff members, will work with individual residents to identify DDT’s on their property and will help residents to find cost-saving ways to remove the appropriate trees.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly for the future, the Association will begin the process of planting new trees in areas where DDT’s will be removed.  Future planting will be done with a focus on forest diversity and drought tolerance.  The red gum eucalyptus may not dominate the RSF forests 10 years from now, but the CONE committee is determined that the distinctive RSF skyline will survive.

This article is the first in a series of articles about RSF Forest Health.  The next article will provide more detail about ongoing efforts to solve the problems our forest faces.  If you would like more information about removing DDT’s or planting appropriate trees, please contact Arnold Keene at arnold@rsfassociation.org or Chris Galindo at RSFFD, (858) 756-6010.  More information can also be found at rsfforesthealth.org and rsf-fire.org.  — CONE

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