By Carl Butz
DOWNIEVILLE — The heavy snowfall arriving at the end of 2021 brought down thousands of trees on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada. With many of these downed trees falling on or near highways in our region, Caltrans signed a $3 million Emergency Tree Removal contract this past January with Tyrell Resources of Redding, CA, for the clearing of embankments littered by trees along Highways 20, 49, 80, 174, and 193 within Nevada, Yuba, Sierra, El Dorado, and Placer counties.
As a result, motorists, such as this newspaper’s editor and distributor, endured 1-way traffic controls and often significant delays along these routes throughout February and March. We also watched log piles grow at several large turnouts abutting the roads. These piles are now becoming biomass, and roughly 500-600 tons of the ground-up material are currently being trucked each week to Rio Bravo Power in Lincoln, where the wood is fueling the generation of power fed into California’s electricity grid.
As wonderful as it is to see fewer tree branches extending over the pavement of the highways, the work done by Tyrell Resources has only made a small dent in the amount of wood lining our mountain roads. Thus, the “scenic tunnel” posed to humans trying to flee from a wildfire remains in place.
However, according to Raquel Borrayo, Public Information Officer for Caltrans’ District 3 in Marysville, the agency in charge of maintaining our state highways is now in the process of working with the California Office of Emergency Services to develop a $26 million Fuel Reduction Project focused upon the roads in Nevada, Yuba, and Sierra counties. According to the plan, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will reimburse the state for 75 percent of the project’s cost.