PG&E helicopter trims trees along power lines in rural Sonoma County forest

Author GUY KOVNER, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Flying about 220 feet above ground in Sonoma County’s northwest corner, a PG&E-chartered helicopter gave a loud buzz cut to towering trees that threaten to drop branches on 46 miles of rural power transmission lines.

Moving slowly above the redwoods and Douglas firs of the coastal mountains, the helicopter guided a 30-foot vertical saw — with eight whirling steel blades — over rugged terrain where tree limbs pose a threat to high-voltage power lines from Fort Ross to Fort Bragg.

Trimming 3 miles a day, the Heli-Saw is making its Sonoma County debut as PG&E’s ultimate vegetation management tool.

“We can do in one day what would take a crew of climbers three to four weeks,” said Brian Mulhollen, division manager/safety officer with Heli-Dunn, the Medford, Oregon-based company that works for PG&E throughout its 70,000-square-mile territory.

Approaching a clearing along Tin Barn Road in the Annapolis area Tuesday, the Astar 350 helicopter blasted observers with roaring engine noise and rotor wash as the clattering saw severed protruding tree limbs.

In the cockpit, pilot Casey Blacker peered through a large bubble in his side window to watch the tops of the trees ahead and keep the saw suspended on a pole below in his peripheral vision.

The biggest challenge, Blacker said during a refueling stop in a nearby field, is trimming trees through a canyon when the helicopter descends as the power lines ahead begin rising.

“It’s no fun,” said Blacker, who has thousands of hours of Heli-Saw flight time. “Things like that make more of a mental barrier. You get tense.”

At times the saw stops when it encounters a tree growing within another tree, sending a shudder up the pole and into the helicopter.

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Can Planting Trees Make a City More Equitable?

Cities across the U.S. are pledging to plant trees and restore urban forests to combat climate change and cool off disadvantaged communities.

As the U.S. grapples with natural disasters and racial injustice, one coalition of U.S. cities, companies and nonprofits sees a way to make an impact on both fronts: trees.

Specifically, they committed to planting and restoring 855 million of them by 2030 as part of the Trillion Trees Initiative, a global push to encourage reforestation to capture carbon and slow the effects of global heating. Announced on Thursday, it’s the first nationwide pledge to the program, and additionally noteworthy because the U.S. group — which includes Microsoft Corp. and Mastercard Inc. — will focus on urban plantings as means of improving air quality in communities that have been disproportionately affected by pollution and climate change.

“We’re passionate about urban forestry and the goal of tree equity,” says Jad Daley, president and chief executive officer of American Forests, the longtime conservation group that’s helped organize the pledge. “It’s not just about more trees in cities. If you show me a map of tree cover in any city, you’re showing me a map of race and income levels. We see this as nothing less than a moral imperative.”

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Don’t believe self-serving messengers. Logging will not prevent destructive wildfires

My community of Big Bear City, in the mountains east of Los Angeles, had a tense week recently. For a few nerve-racking days, the El Dorado fire, which has burned more than 20,000 acres in and around the San Bernardino National Forest, threatened to move our way.

The fire had seen little movement in the previous days, despite the fact that it was burning in dense forests with many dead trees and downed logs. Weather conditions had been cool and calm. Then things changed, and quickly. The weather shifted to hot, dry and windy. Right away, the El Dorado fire began spreading much more rapidly, toward Big Bear. We were notified to prepare for potential evacuation. Several days later, temperatures cooled again, winds died down and fire activity calmed.

Scenarios like this are playing out across the western United States, especially in California and Oregon. Many homes have been lost and, tragically, at least 30 lives too. Numerous communities have been forced to evacuate, displacing thousands of families. People are scared and looking for answers.

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A Billion-Dollar Fortune From Timber and Fire

Red Emerson is the largest timber owner in California with huge holdings in the Sierra. He also has many politicians in his pocket.  And it is traditional for his company Sierra Pacific to hold a seat on the California Board of Forestry which makes the logging rules! … R. Coates

Author Chloe Sorvino

From humble beginnings traipsing through California’s vast forests with his dad to salvaging wood from forest fires, Red Emmerson has built a logging empire by being cheaper and more aggressive than his rivals.

One of the largest fires to burn in California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range, the Rim Fire tore through 257,000 acres on the edge of Yosemite National Park in 2013. Not long after firefighters doused the flames, a fleet of bulldozers and trucks arrived, sent by billionaire Archie Aldis “Red” Emmerson. Workers began ripping up the trees even as the brush nearby was still smoldering.

  • We’ll be in there before the smoke is out,” Emmerson boasts in a rare, three-hour interview from his Douglas-fir-paneled boardroom in tiny Anderson, California, which is wedged between the Shasta-Trinity and Lassen National Forests, about two hours north of Sacramento. Emmerson recalls the Fountain Fire of 1992 in Shasta County, 50 miles northeast of Anderson, that burned 64,000 acres and 272 homes: “We had trucks coming down the road that had flames on the back.” At 89 years of age he walks slowly but has no problem piloting his silver Dodge pickup truck to work before 8 a.m., six days a week. Adds his son Mark, who is CFO, “We get in, and we are very aggressive after a fire.”

    Nicknamed “Red” as a teen for his hair color, Emmerson is happy to reminisce about the many fires from which his Sierra Pacific Industries has profited. Wearing jeans held up by a belt buckle emblazoned with the insignia he brands on his ranch’s cattle, the feisty tycoon, who runs the business with his two sons, George, 61, and Mark, 58, makes more money from logging after forest fires than any person in America. When the government sells contracts to cut down trees after fires in national forests—a controversial practice known as post-fire salvage logging—Emmerson buys in at a steep discount, often paying one half to one fourth the price for traditional wood. Sierra Pacific then turns the usable lumber (about 90%) into boards and other wood products to sell to homebuilders and lumber retailers like Home Depot, Menards and Lowe’s

Nicknamed “Red” as a teen for his hair color, Emmerson is happy to reminisce about the many fires from which his Sierra Pacific Industries has profited. Wearing jeans held up by a belt buckle emblazoned with the insignia he brands on his ranch’s cattle, the feisty tycoon, who runs the business with his two sons, George, 61, and Mark, 58, makes more money from logging after forest fires than any person in America. When the government sells contracts to cut down trees after fires in national forests—a controversial practice known as post-fire salvage logging—Emmerson buys in at a steep discount, often paying one half to one fourth the price for traditional wood. Sierra Pacific then turns the usable lumber (about 90%) into boards and other wood products to sell to homebuilders and lumber retailers like Home Depot, Menards and Lowe’s.

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Science Says: Climate change, people stoke California fires

The only “cause” for California’s fires that they forgot to mention was excessive logging that opens up more areas for grasses and fire-prone brush to grow. —R. COATES

 Author SETH BORENSTEIN
In this Monday, Aug. 17, 2020 file photo, flames from the River Fire crest a ridge in Salinas, Calif. In California, a Mediterranean climate sets up ideal conditions for fire then is worsened by climate change, says University of California, Merced, fire scientist LeRoy Westerling, who has had his home threatened twice in the last few years. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

If you want to build a fire, you need three things: Ignition, fuel and oxygen. But wildfire in California is a much more complex people-stoked witch’s brew.

The state burns regularly because of fierce autumn winds, invasive grasses that act as kindling, fire-happy native shrubs and trees, frequent drought punctuated by spurts of downpours, a century of fire suppression, people moving closer to the wild, homes that burn easily, people starting fires accidentally or on purpose — and most of all climate change.

“California has a really flammable ecosystem,” said University of Colorado fire scientist Jennifer Balch. “People are living in flammable places, providing ignition, starting the wildfires against a backdrop of a warming climate that is making wildfires worse.”

And it’s getting worse, fast. Area burned by wildfire in California increased more than fivefold since 1972, from a five-year average of 236 square miles (611 square kilometers) a year to 1,394 square miles (3,610 square kilometers) a year according to a 2019 study by Williams, Balch and others.

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