Healthy Forest Management
Brush and Tree Removal Protocols
By Dick Fisher
Background: As part of the Southwest Shore’s 2014 participation in the federally-funded Healthy Forest/Fire-Fuel Reduction Project, our Association committed to a continuing “maintenance of effort,” so that the benefits of the Project (fire prevention and healthy forest) do not decline or disappear during the coming years. In addition to the fire-fuel reduction benefits resulting from the significant thinning of the forest to its more natural density, we are now also seeing the generally-improved health of the remaining larger trees due to the Project’s reduction in competing vegetation. Also, as a by-product of the forest-thinning and pruning Project, cabin owners are now enjoying enhanced views of the hillsides, granite outcroppings, lake and other longer vistas previously restricted by forest overgrowth. If we do not affirmatively maintain the thinned conditions initiated by the Project, the benefits of the Project will soon disappear with the growth of new understory vegetation that is already starting to reappear.
Following are the standards of the Project, to be maintained into the future, and are applicable not only to each cabin lot, but to the entire Southwest Shore area including common areas:
- All smaller trees (from seedlings up to those with trunk diameters of up to 9 inches at chest-height) are to be removed from the canopy area of larger trees. Canopy area is an imaginary circular ground area around each tree, determined by the horizontal spread of the tree’s branches, also referred to as the “drip line” or “understory” area. Healthy tree canopies will of course continually grow to cover larger areas, so that in addition to the task of keeping the current canopy areas clear of competing vegetation, additional smaller trees will require removal as time goes on. Also, there are instances where the Project contractor did not fully comply with this tree-thinning standard. Accordingly, compliance with this standard should be measured by the actual facts on the ground, rather than the extent of work performed under the 2014 Project. No additional Forest Service approval is required for this maintenance of effort, except when a tree proposed to be cut has a trunk diameter of 9 inches or more at chest height. Willows in riparian zones are exempt from cutting, to be preserved as bird habitat.
- Smaller trees (those with trunk diameters of less than 9 inches) not within the canopy area of larger trees, but growing close together, are to be thinned to reduce competition for space and nutrients. In deciding which of such trees to eliminate, pine trees are to be favored for retention, in preference to fir trees. (Firs are the short-needled ones that when young often resemble Christmas trees.) Also, all smaller trees that are dead or diseased are to be removed.
- Tree Pruning: All remaining trees are to have their lower branches pruned (including both dead and green branches), up to a height of approximately 12 feet from the ground, or up to one-third of their green crown, whichever is lower. However, the smallest trees (those less than 7 feet in height), are exempt from pruning.
- Brush Control: All dead or diseased brush/shrubbery is to be cut, and in larger areas of growth may be thinned by cutting them down to ground level to form paths through them that create “islands” of remaining vegetation, with the open path areas separating the islands to have a width that measures approximately the same as the height of the remaining shrubs.
- Disposal of cut debris and slash from the above actions: If conveniently close to any road, the material should be dragged to roadside and stacked for removal or chipping by the annual Association brush removal project. If the debris is in more remote areas, it may be scattered on open hillsides, so that each branch or trunk lies in full contact with the ground to reduce its fire hazard and to hasten its decomposition into the forest floor.
The Association has committed financially to support both the annual Brush Removal project which removes or chips the debris from the above activities, and also to support the felling (with USFS approval) of larger dead trees. Dead tree cutting that involves special handling due to hazard to a cabin will remain the financial responsibility of the cabin owner. As with the Project itself, cut or downed tree trunks will be left on the ground, but moved a reasonable distance away from cabin structures, and moved or cut to avoid blocking established paths, roads and parking areas.
Nothing herein prohibits future amendments to the above-described Association project.