A national organization that represents more than 2,000 counties across the United States is recognizing Tuolumne County for its efforts to reduce the threat of tree mortality.

The county recently won a 2017 Achievement Award in the category of risk and emergency management from the National Association of Counties, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., for its program to remove dead or dying trees that threaten county-maintained roads and structures.

District 2 County Supervisor Randy Hanvelt smiled and gave two thumbs up when Ethan Billigmeier, a county administrative analyst, announced the county had received the award at the Board of Supervisors’ meeting on Tuesday.

Billigmeier gave credit to fellow county administrative analyst Ryan Campbell for writing the award application.

“(Campbell) really did a great job of explaining the large issue and how we’ve really done a great job at gathering the resources that are available to us and making the most of those,” Billigmeier said.

The annual Achievement Awards were launched in 1970 to recognize innovative county government programs that improve the lives of residents and overcome complex challenges, according to the association.

National awards are given in 18 different categories that also includes county administration, health, civic engagement, and criminal justice.
Most of the past award winners from California since 2007 in the association’s searchable online database have a much larger population than Tuolumne County, including Los Angeles County, Riverside County, and San Bernardino.

Hundreds of dead or dying trees have been removed by county contractors in places including the Leisure Pines, Cedar Ridge and Sugar Pine.

A project that will remove 65 hazard trees in Ponderosa Hills is currently underway, while the county is currently awaiting proposals from contractors for one to remove 459 trees along Tuolumne Road North and 269 trees along Merrell Road.

Upcoming projects include Ferretti Road near Pine Mountain Lake, Middle Camp Road, Middle Camp-Sugar Pine Road, the area of Twain Harte near the golf course and shopping center, Confidence Road, Sierra Village, Smith Station Road, Phoenix Lake Road, Crystal Falls Drive, Cold Springs, and Big Hill Road.

The county pays for 25 percent of the projects, while the state covers the rest under the California Disaster Assistance Act.

More than 100 millions trees are believed to have died in California forests since 2010 due to five years of drought that weakened trees and made them more vulnerable to infestation by native bark beetles.

In October 2015, Gov. Jerry Brown issued a state of emergency providing money and resources to public agencies for the removal of dead or dying trees threatening public infrastructure.

The county has pledged more than $600,000 from General Fund reserves to cover its share of the cost.

County officials estimate needing a total of about $12 million over the next three years to remove all of the hazardous trees, so 25 percent of that would essentially deplete the county’s $2.3 million in General Fund reserves.

State Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte, has introduced legislation that would reduce the county’s share of the cost to 10 percent. The bill unanimously passed the Senate Governmental Organization Committee last week and is scheduled to be considered by the Senate Appropriations Committee next Monday.

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.