Workers contracted by Tuolumne County have started removing drought-stressed and beetle-infested ponderosa pines and incense cedars this week along Twain Harte Drive, and the work is expected to be completed by mid-October.

Tuolumne County administrators say a Dublin tree removal business named ArborWorks Inc. has been awarded a $231,717 contract for removal of approximately 163 dead or dying trees.

The project covers all of Twain Harte Drive from the west Highway 108 entrance to Meadow Drive.

Workers are using cranes and other heavy equipment on the project, and there is a road closure on Twain Harte Drive from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays planned through the middle of next week.

“The road closure will be between Black Hawk Drive northeast to Meadow Drive, where we are removing approximately 50 very hazardous dead trees along the golf course,” Ryan Campbell, an administrative analyst with the county Office of Emergency Services/Tree Mortality, said Wednesday.

Most of these trees will require the use of a crane to remove, because they are surrounded by Twain Harte Drive, a walking trail and by the golf course.

Pedestrian traffic is prohibited on the Twain Harte Drive walking trail during timber felling, Campbell said. The project is expected to be completed within three weeks.

Drought stress and bark beetle infestation have already killed thousands of Twain Harte's pine trees over the past two years, according to staff with Twain Harte Community Services District.

Twain Harte CSD has received California Disaster Assistance Act funding to pay for 75 percent of costs to remove dead and dying trees that threaten at-risk water and sewer infrastructure, and CSD staff have contracted with Chriso's Tree Trimming and Traditional Tree Service to remove about 425 trees. That work was expected to be completed this month.

Other agencies doing tree removal work in the Twain Harte area include Pacific Gas & Electric, Tuolumne Utilities District and Caltrans.

Low-income people over age 60 and disabled adults who live where dead and dying trees threaten their homes can call the Area 12 Agency On Aging at (209) 532-6272, ext. 208, to see if they qualify for the local Tree Mortality Aid Program.

As of mid-September, the nonprofit organization had identified 92 eligible applicants for assistance, evaluated 84 properties for hazard trees, and removed more than 140 trees at a cost of more than $56,000, TMAP coordinator Glenn Gottschall said this week.

Gottschall said he and others with the Tree Mortality Aid Program hope to increase their funding from $125,000 to $150,000 to take out as many trees as possible before heavy winter weather arrives.

The Forest Service last year estimated more than 102 million trees have died in the Sierra Nevada since 2010 due to drought stress and beetle infestation, with mortality reaching emergency levels in a region including Tuolumne and Calaveras counties.

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter @GuyMcCarthy.

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