In an attempt to wrangle the scourge of pines in the Gorge that is the California fivespined ips, the Underwood Conservation District is offering assistance to landowners who need to take down trees that have been attacked by the bark beetles.
They can be seen throughout the Gorge: Ponderosa and western white pine trees that have turned reddish-brown in color, withered, and died. This is the footprint of an outbreak of the California fivespined ips for the last two summers, a bark beetle that has left nothing but destroyed trees in its path.
Now is the time of the year to begin addressing some of the dead trees left behind, according to Tova Tillinghast, manager of the Underwood Conservation District. Tillinghast said entomologists have determined that the ips bark beetle is dormant during the winter, so by addressing trees that have been previously infested during that time the chances of spreading or attracting the beetle are minimized.
Enter “Beetle-Killed Tree Assistance,” a program the district is promoting currently to help landowners take down trees that have been killed by the ips and dispose of them properly.
A multi-state grant with the Oregon Department of Forestry called Partnership for Resilient Forests in the Columbia River Gorge Wildland Urban Interface provided the Underwood Conservation District with about $29,000 for tree felling assistance and public outreach.
The reasons to fell trees that have been killed by the ips are many, according to Tillinghast, but one of the top reasons the district is focusing its efforts on trees near homes or communal areas is that an enormous dead pine tree prone to fall over at any second can and should be viewed as a safety hazard.
“For most folks these trees are an eyesore, and many will be motivated purely by aesthetics to fell and remove the trees, but if the dead or dying tree is within striking distance of a home, community space, or public right-of-way the tree could be considered a hazard, especially in the case of a fire. So we are focusing our tree felling work on the ‘defensible space’ around homes,” Tillinghast wrote in an e-mail to The Enterprise.
Decreasing habitat for the beetles and pulling down trees that could be potential fuel for wildfires are also reasons to take down dead ponderosa or western white pines.
“A downed dead tree trunk provides much less fuel and shorter flame length than a standing tree with all its dead branches and dry needles. So, our goal is to minimize the risk of these trees becoming wildfire fuels and exacerbating the risk of home ignition in the case of a wildfire,” Tillinghast wrote.
As the budget for tree falling services only comes to about $29,000, about 50 percent of tree falling costs incurred by landowners will be reimbursed through the district. According to documents outlining the project, $500 will be paid for a tree between 50 and 60 feet tall, $800 for a tree between 60 and 80 feet tall, and $1,000 for trees taller than 80 feet.
Only ponderosa or western white pine trees impacted by bark beetles that are located on private property, community areas, or property owned by counties, schools, or other local municipalities in western Klickitat County west of the Klickitat River and eastern Skamania County east of the Wind River will be considered for the program.
In order to be eligible, landowners need to contact the Underwood Conservation District or go to their website at www.ucdwa.org to sign up for the Tree Felling Interest List. Then a coordinator, technician, or forester with the district will visit the homeowner’s property to determine the tree’s eligibility.
Trees deemed eligible must be at least 10 inches diameter at breast height, 50 feet tall, be within 1.5 times the height of the tree from a house, barn, or building larger than 500 square feet, a utility line, or public right-of-way.
The tree must also be dead or significantly stressed. The representative conducting the analysis with the Underwood Conservation District will define a “significantly stressed” or dying tree as one with at least 30 percent or more of the tree crown reddening or obviously dead.
Participants also cannot have already participated in the Underwood Conservation District’s Firewise Incentive Program. Eligibility will be on a first-come, first-serve basis and the landowner must hire a certified, licensed arborist or tree service to perform the tree felling.
If the tree or trees are eligible, the landowner will be put on the Eligible Tree Felling List with the district. From there, the removal is in the landowner’s hands.
“After the agreement is signed, the landowner will contract with a qualified contractor to do the work. They submit invoices to UCD, UCD staff inspects the site to ensure it was done according to our agreement, and UCD reimburses 50 percent of the cost, up to the maximum amount based on the tree size,” Tillinghast wrote.
After the tree has been taken down, Tillinghast said most arborists will either chip or haul the remaining portions away, but if that’s not the case the landowner will be required to dispose of the downed tree by either chipping or burning it to prevent further spread of bark beetles.
“We will also provide guidance on how to manage the downed tree trunk, whether the landowner wants to use it for firewood or sell it to a local mill, for example. UCD is working on compiling various wood utilization options for landowners to consider, and where opportunities arise, UCD may be able to assist with removing large logs,” Tillinghast wrote.