By Jennifer Robison
California’s trees have had an especially tough run the past year.
From a drought-driven mortality crisis to a record-setting winter storm season, trees across PG&E’s service area have struggled to survive big challenges.
A November report from the U.S. Forest Service showed 62 million tree deaths across California in 2016. That was more than double the 29 million trees that died in 2015.
The forest carnage has made 2017’s Arbor Day celebrations in March and April especially poignant — and important.
PG&E’s vegetation management program has stepped up to help: It has partnered with California ReLeaf, a nonprofit that promotes planting and care of trees, to give $25,000 in Arbor Day-related grants to nearly a dozen community organizations across the energy company’s service area. The grants will fund the care or planting of nearly 400 trees, as well as safety demonstrations and arborist-led walks to promote the best trees for specific locations.
“Planting of trees has been especially important this year because of tree mortality caused by the drought,” said Kelly Fredrickson, a Redding-based PG&E vegetation program manager who participated in a March 9 tree planting with 80 elementary school students in Oroville. “Although we are out of the drought, years of water shortages are still affecting trees. Reestablishing trees now will help to bring green back into the community.”
Brian Biancardi, a vegetation management supervisor in the Bay Area, said Arbor Day activities also give PG&E the opportunity to deliver a number of important messages.
“Arbor Day encourages and promotes focus on our urban forests,” Biancardi said. “PG&E encourages green, healthy cities, but reminds our customers that trees must be planted safely and in a manner that won’t conflict with both our underground and overhead facilities.”
PG&E’s Arbor Day events kicked off March 7 — the first day of California Arbor Week — with a tree planting at Kennedy High School in Richmond. PG&E granted $3,000 to Common Vision, a Ukiah nonprofit that plants fruit orchards at high schools in at-risk communities.
With the help of PG&E volunteers, 19 teachers and 120 students, Common Vision planted 25 fruit trees at Kennedy High, roughly doubling the orchard of 28 trees the nonprofit planted on the campus in 2014. Common Vision also tended to the existing orchard, providing pruning, fertilization and irrigation repairs.
A March 11 tree tour followed in Nevada City, where PG&E gave the local chamber of commerce a $1,200 grant for educational efforts. John Glaz, a PG&E quality assurance auditor and arborist based in San Francisco, shared tree-planting tips with attendees, reminding them to call 811 before digging to plant and to look out for power lines above. Glaz also urged participants to support California’s diverse forest with new plantings of their own.
Event manager Pamela Biery thanked PG&E, as well as California ReLeaf, the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce and tour leader Zeno Acton, of Acton Arboriculture.
“Trees are an important part of our daily life, offering beauty, shade, soil conservation and water preservation, all while providing us with improved air to breathe — remarkable, really,” Biery told news website Yubanet. “Nevada City’s trees are a vital part of its landscape.”
Other community groups receiving PG&E grants through California ReLeaf include the Tree Foundation of Kern, in Bakersfield; Woodland Tree Foundation; Keep Eureka Beautiful; Planting Justice, of Oakland; Tree Fresno; and Puentes, of Stockton.
PG&E-sponsored Arbor Day events will run through May 13, culminating in a community garden party at the Alice Fong Yu Alternative School in San Francisco.
“It’s important that our communities know that PG&E is committed to supporting them at all times, and not just when storms hit,” Fredrickson said.
“Arbor Day events are just another way for PG&E to give back,” he added. “There are many events that take place throughout the year, but Arbor Day events give school kids the opportunity to plant PG&E-donated trees for shade and other environmental benefits. Kids will remember that they planted those trees with the assistance from PG&E. These events build a positive relationship between the community and PG&E.”
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