Ag Tour features forest issues

By Michael Raffety

Democrat correspondent

The 52d annual Agricultural June 3 Tour took a bus full of participants to some familiar locations, all of which had new and interesting information.

Rather than starting from the usual, cavernous Fruit Growers Shed on Missouri Flat Road, this year the tour began at the El Dorado Irrigation District headquarters on Mosquito Road – a much easier exit at the end of the tour.

After coffee and a brief briefing on EID’s 1,298 miles of water pipelines and 48 miles of ditches, the first stop was Sly Park Recreation Area, where the discussion turned to bark beetle infestations.

EID’s Parks and Recreation Manager Greg Hawkins said last year there were 10-25 dead trees around Sly Park, victims of the drought, which made them easy prey for pine beetles. This year, however, the tree death count zoomed up to 250.

In an effort to battle the beetles Hawkins has set out pheromone traps for the beetles two weeks ago. Forty traps have already captured 100-200 bugs per trap in the first week.

It costs $500-$1,000 to remove dead trees. Hawkins offered the dead trees to anyone who would haul them off.

Tom Tinsley of the California Department of Forestry said an aerial inspection last October revealed 29 million trees lost to drought stress and beetle infestation. He said he expects that number to reach 40 million.

El Dorado County Supervisor Mike Ranalli said the county Department of Transportation has been counting dead trees along the roads and so far has totaled 1,250, which he pegged at five trees per mile.

At the Forest Genetics Institute in Camino the latest studies are what pine trees can withstand warmer overall temperatures. While “climate change” is the buzz word du jour among the plant researchers, the most interesting new project by Jessica Wright is a plantation of valley oaks.

In 2012 they gathered 12,000 acorns in two days. They sprouted them in greenhouses, transferred them to pots and planted them in the fields in 2014. There are 670 different oak species from 970 elevations.

“Because of the coast fires some of these oaks don’t even exist anywhere else,’” Wright said.

It’s quite a research project that takes the Forest Genetics Institute in a whole new direction.

The Institute was founded by Seattle lumberman James G. Eddy. Called the Eddy Tree Arboretum, it was founded as a breeding station in 1925. He chose the site for its elevation, climate and soil. By crossbreeding he created unique pine species found nowhere else. There are 70 of 98 species of pine at the tree plantation. A downtown office of the Eddy Tree Plantation burned down in Placerville in 1929. In 1935 he deeded the property to the United States and it became part of the U.S. Forest Service. It attracts scientists from all over the world to look at the latest research. The Forest Genetics Institute is the oldest such research facility in the Western hemisphere. The buildings of the institute were constructed by Works Project Administration and Conservation Corps in 1936-1942.

Later in the 1940s researchers made the discovery that elevation is a critical variant in tree health. In other words only pine seeds from the same elevation can be grown successfully at that elevation.

This is a key factor used by the Placerville Nursery in another location in Camino. The U. S. Forest Service nursery gathers pinecones from different elevations and parts of California and runs them through its seed extraction machinery that occupies a large room of its own. Those seeds are kept in cold storage until orders are received by Dec. 1 to have seedling to replant after forest fires. The cold storage holds $15 million worth of seeds.

The nursery began as a bare root seedling production on its 100 acres of irrigated land, but now most clients prefer container seedlings. Most of the containers are Styrafoam boxes holding 200-250 seedlings in each box. When the seedlings are ready for October-November planting they are popped out of the boxes by a machine and bagged 10 to a bag.

A big portion of the order will go toward replanting for the King Fire burn area in El Dorado County, with a smaller portion available for private landowners in the King Fire area via the El Dorado Resource Conservation District.

The re-greening of El Dorado County starts at this nursery.

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