A decision regarding the future of some of the eucalyptus trees that line the U.S. Highway 101 safety corridor between Eureka and Arcata could be made Tuesday at the Humboldt County Board of Supervisor’s meeting.
Citing safety and environmental concerns, county staff recommended the trees in the stand north of the former mill sites be cut down.
“They’re wonderful trees, and they have a great history but they’re no longer compatible with current and future infrastructure,” said Hank Seemann, Humboldt County Public Works environmental services deputy director. “The proposal is to go around the majority of the trees but having mature eucalyptus trees overhanging the bay trail is a safety hazard and it was our staff position they be removed.”
In July, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors voted 4-0 — when Rex Bohn was absent — to approve a staff report to hire a professional arborist to study whether or not the county should approve the removal of eucalyptus trees along the safety corridor to make room for the final stretch of the Humboldt Bay Trail.
The results of that report will be presented to the board Tuesday morning and it doesn’t look good for the trees.
The county hired Dryad, LLC, based in Castro Valley to conduct an evaluation of the trees, the soil and the surrounding environment and those results recommend cutting down 219 individual trunks over eight inches in diameter because of several factors.
The report, compiled by registered arborist Torrey Young, notes that while the stand of trees might have played a useful role in the past as a thick windbreak, they are now in a steady state of physical decline that will only worsen over time.
“This stand of trees exhibits a number of structural weaknesses that can result in failures. These conditions include decay at the base of tree trunks, columns of decay on trunk interiors, decay at pruning wound sites, large dead limbs, weak attachments of limbs and tops and codominant stems,” Young writes in the 17-page report. “The targets for such failures include the planned Humboldt Bay Trail to the west and the immediately adjacent Highway 101 to the east. There is a high potential for both significant property damage and serious personal injury or death should whole trees or tree parts fail.”
Young focused the study on 10 trees in the northern stand he deemed most likely to fall within one to three years and found there was little difference in their overall health. Tests of the soil found high concentrations of salt and low soil fertility.
“The trees as a whole are in an advanced state of physiological decline, exhibiting little ability to compartmentalize wounds on the most recent pruning cuts, almost nonexistent sprouting and profuse dieback of twigs and entire branches. The adjacent drainage water is also high in salts,” Young wrote. “These conditions in combination with repeated and severe pruning, desiccation from frequent winds and the poor water-holding capacity of the soil are likely the combined cause of decline.”
Not everyone believes the trees should be removed and that includes the great-granddaughter of the man who originally planted the trees in 1921, Trisha Lotus.
In March, Lotus told the Times-Standard that proper maintenance of the trees has been successful and that’s what the county should continue to do instead of cutting trees down.
“Keep the eucalyptus rigorously trimmed like Caltrans is doing and put in an artistic overhang,” Lotus said at the time, adding the overhang would prevent those using the trail from falling debris.
The key decision before the board today, other than approving the removal of the trees, is whether or not to hire a second arborist to provide in essence, a second opinion.
It cost the county $12,000 to hire Dryad and it will cost an additional $12,00 to $15,000 to hire a second consultant. The county cannot be reimbursed for the first study but could seek reimbursement from the state if they hire a firm to perform an additional study.
For more information on the agenda item visit https://humboldt.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3718931&GUID=496EA4D9-3309-4892-BF51-E67A2427DD91&Options=&Search.
Dan Squier can be reached at 707-441-0528.