North Bay fire zone tree quandary: cut or keep

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KGO) -- Even in the remaining wreckage of the North Bay Fire Zone, new questions arise every day. Having dealt with big issues like removing debris, it's time now for more of the subtle issues.

"Have you ever seen anything like this?" I asked Steven Swain. "No sir, I have not."

He is an environmental horticulture adviser. That answer speaks to the scope and damage of these fires on California trees. Swain is a person that homeowners would love to have looking around their yards when deciding if burned trees should stay or go.

"This tree's root system may be 100 yards across," said Swain while eyeing a massive, charred oak behind a burned home. The bark shows bleed marks from dried sap, but do not be so hasty about cutting such a tree down, at least in the short term. The remaining roots may prevent a landslide, and might be enough to keep the oak alive.

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"Even trees on which all the leaves are burned will develop new ones in the spring, if they are alive."

Especially in more rural areas, expect that for every tree removed, something ill takes its place. Habitats and their occupants may change. Deer may move out, and woodpeckers in.

"This has affected the wildlife, the environment, and ecology," said Swain. Given a few years, however, nature will find a balance.

Meantime, as a general call PG&E about dangerous looking trees near power lines. If they appear to threaten roads or structures, check with Cal Fire. If you have any doubts at all, get an expert opinion from an arborist. See what you can, especially the Oaks.

"They're built for this," said Swain.

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