This morning our road was blocked by tree workers, trucks, and chippers, and I could not get my son to his class. I had received no notification that this work was being done, and so had not made any arrangements to leave my car accessible down the road. There was no supervisor on site, and only one worker who spoke English (sadly my Spanish is poor). Frustrated, I asked him who was responsible, and he said – of course – PG&E.
PG&E (Pacific Gas and Electric) filed for bankruptcy last year after their power lines were found to be responsible for the devastating California fires in the last few years. Now they are spending millions of dollars ruthlessly cutting down trees around their lines, using outside contractors who know nothing about California trees or fire ecology.
A more fire-safe option would be to replace single wires with protective insulated lines, but PG&E say the cost is prohibitive. Its cheaper and easier to chop trees down. This is the sort of short-term thinking that is sure to lead to more fire trouble down the road.
I can handle PG&Es extended rolling blackouts in fire season, but I am having a hard time with the mindless butchering of our bishop pines and live oaks. It is very hard to witness perfectly healthy trees being hacked by incompetent contractors.
Last week, I returned from a camping trip and found that several trees on our property had been removed by PG&E without my consent, and they left most of the tree debris (which is a real fire risk) on the land for me to deal with. We’ve already lost most of our trees due to Sudden Oak Death, but all of these dead trees were left on the property. Only the live healthy ones were cut.
The way our trees are being chopped and limbed is deeply disturbing. There is no respect. No gratitude. No acknowledgement of the trees as living beings that provide homes and food to other living beings. No honoring of the trees for filtering our air and rainwater, providing shade to our homes, maintaining our soil health, and making our community beautiful to live in. Just a mindless hacking to get the job done, to hell with nesting birds and tree lovers like me!
By the way, live oaks and California bay laurels are actually fire resistant. Bishop pines pose more of a fire risk; they burn hot and fast in a wildfire. And we do have a lot of dead Bishop pines in the wild lands surrounding our home, which I am concerned about, but there is no money nor means to address this issue, and PG&E isn’t going to help.
We live in a high-risk fire zone but this is not going to be solved by butchering healthy trees next to the power lines. The real issues are climate change, biodiversity decline, and the fact that no one is tending the wild anymore. But no one is addressing these bigger issues, and in the meantime PG&E is cutting down as many trees as possible before the next fire season, using the cheapest means necessary. And after that they are going to hike our rates up so that we get to pay for it all! Which is outrageous when you think that PG&E CEO gets an annual base salary of $2.5 million plus stock awards of at least $3.5 million a year.
My radical solution would be this: have PG&E give the money to our community to do the tree work ourselves. We have plenty of local arborists and tree removal companies, including informed tree and fire ecologists, plus the Inverness Fire Department. Between us we could decide which trees need trimming, and we could do the work in a more measured and sensitive way, whilst supporting our local economy. We could even go one step further and take power production into our own hands by setting up a community micro-grid. No more PG&E! Personally I’d be happiest off-grid, and our community powering down to the pre-industrial days. I’m fairly sure the trees would agree with me on this one.