Mad River Union
BRACUTT – The towering stand of eucalyptus trees along U.S. Highway 101 between Arcata and Eureka is iconic and beloved by many residents. But a certified master arborist has told the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors that the trees in the northern segment of the stand are rotting from within, exist in inhospitable saline conditions and should be removed to avoid failure that could threaten lives and property.
An evaluation of the segment of the stand that would skirt the Humboldt Bay Trail was presented to supervisors at their Nov. 6 meeting.
The $12,000 report stems from the board’s approval of the environmental review for development of the center section of the Arcata to Eureka Humboldt Bay Trail. The development plan for the 4.2-mile trail segment includes the removal of 200 eucalyptus trees – about 40 percent of the 1.25-mile line of trees – to avoid limb failures that could endanger trail users.
Torrey Young, a consulting arborist with the Castro Valley-based Dryad LLC company, evaluated the northern stand of trees and said that it’s in “an advanced stage of decline.” The trees are failing in salinated soil and have already been aggressively pruned and in some cases completely cut.
Young said the trees have limited potential for maintenance and “high potential for significant property damage, injury or death should whole trees fail.”
Pruning, bracing and cabling – which have been proposed to address liability – won’t work here and Young said he doesn’t see “any reasonable expectation” that risk can be reduced.
“If they’re allowed to remain, the risk is going to increase over time,” he continued. “The health of the trees will continue to decline as this environment is inherently inhospitable to the long term success of plant life in general and certainly to large, substantial trees.”
Young recommended removal of the entire northern stand.
When supervisors approved the trail plan last summer, there was a robust public comment debate on whether or not the trees should be removed. But at last week’s hearing, public comment was minimal and discussion among supervisors focused on the report’s downbeat findings.
Supervisor Virginia Bass said she’s surprised that the trees are in such rough shape. From a driver’s line of sight, they look foliated but photos taken while facing them reveal their sparse limb development and Bass said, “They look like the plants in my office.”
And their threat potential isn’t limited to future trail users. Photos in the report depict the stand’s leaning overhang into the highway area. Supervisor Mike Wilson said he, too, is surprised by the report’s contents and he noted its implications for the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans).
“A lot of those trees are leaning over the highway and I would ask that we submit this report to Caltrans directly,” he said. “To be quite honest, that concerns me more in terms of the danger that we see.”
Supervisor Estelle Fennell asked staff, “Is there a way we could move forward without mowing down all those beautiful trees that so many people love.”
One of the board’s options was to get a second opinion but Environmental Services Manager Hank Seemann said that a more comprehensive report would cost tens of thousands of dollars and trying to render a stand of dying trees safe would cost far more.
Fennell said the report “definitely gave me food for second thought” and she noted Seemann’s mention of sea level rise during his staff presentation.
“I think about the real potential that the trail won’t be there any more than the trees will be there, with sea level rise,” Fennell continued. “So we’re kind of playing with an uncertain future anyway with regard to that section of ground, which really concerns me.”
Supervisors unanimously voted to proceed with the trail plan as is, including tree removal.
Seemann said the state recently approved funding for the trail segment’s design phase, which includes permitting and right of way acquisition.
A funding request for trail construction and wetland mitigation is pending and Seemann said a decision on it will be made by the end of December.
He said that “if all the stars align, we’re still probably two to three years away from construction.”