EL DORADO NATIONAL FOREST — The threat of wildfires is a fact of life in the Sierra.
Areas that burned years ago and have since been replanted with trees are in jeopardy once again.
Seventy-foot trees just off Highway 50 in the El Dorado National Forest did not grow there naturally. They were planted as saplings after the Pilikin Fire burned through the area in 1973.
Now, the trees are crowding each other.
“The trees showing some signs of stress from not having enough sunlight, not enough water, not having enough space to grow,” forest supervisor Lawrence Robert Crabtree said.
Dead or diseased trees crowded together can be explosive fuel for a wildfire. That’s why the area is being thinned out.
Nearly 50 years ago, the trees were planted close together — but current forestry practices recognize a forest needs room to breathe.
“Those trees will get bigger and it will become a different kind of forest, a healthier forest,” Crabtree said.
Forest areas that have been thinned won’t burn as hot or as fast.
The operation also has another benefit — the logs will be turned into lumber that will be able to build about 700 homes.
Robert D’Augustini was a small child when the forest was replanted. Now, as the owner of J & R Logging, his crew is harvesting trees that will contribute to the local economy.
“A forest needs to be managed constantly and dynamically to ensure that the fires do not get catastrophic,” he said.
Much of California wildlands are under federal jurisdiction and national forestry officials say they, along with state and local agencies, are all looking for means to reduce the danger of wildfires.