The Sonora Area Foundation is the organization handling donations. To make a donation online go to http://www.sonora-area.org/ or by mail 362 S Stewart St, Sonora, CA 95370. For information call ( 209) 533-2596.

A newly launched collaborative effort to help low-income seniors and disabled adults with the cost of clearing dead or dying trees from their properties will begin accepting applications for assistance during a kickoff event Thursday.

Volunteers with the Tree Mortality Aid Program, or TMAP, are scheduled to be at the Tuolumne County Senior Center, 540 Greenley Road, Sonora, from 2 to 4 p.m. Thursday (Sept. 15) to provide information about the assistance and hand out applications.

“If they’re worried about trees on their parcel in the middle of this terrible situation and they don’t have the money to bring them down, we’re the people they should be looking for right now,” said Glenn Gottschall, president of the Highway 108 Fire Safe Council, one of the groups involved with the program.

For those who can’t make the event, applications will also be available at the Area 12 Agency on Aging office at 19704 Standard Road, Standard.

The program was spearheaded earlier this year by the Sonora Lions Club in collaboration with a number of other community partners, including Interfaith, Yosemite Foothills Fire Safe Council, Sonora Sunrise Rotary, Kiwanis Club of Sonora, Sierra Non-Profit Services, Twain Harte Soroptimist Club, Area 12 Agency on Aging, the county Office of Emergency Supervisors, and the county Board of Supervisors.

Over the past two months, the groups have worked to install administrators from throughout the community who are donating their time and skills to help get the program rolling.

Gregory Oliver, who served as County Counsel for 18 years before retiring in 2013, was tapped to serve as the project administrator. He said he felt his knowledge of laws, rules, regulations and operating within budgets would be useful.

“They contacted me saying that they were looking for somebody who could administer and lead them down the road,” he said. “It seemed like the perfect fit for me to come in and coordinate the direction we’re going with TMAP.”

Oliver, of Mi-Wuk Village, said community involvement has been picking up as the program has progressed.

The current goal is to raise enough money to begin cutting down trees for eligible low-income seniors and disabled adults by mid-October. Oliver said the Area 12 Agency on Aging will be processing the applications for eligibility.

“One of the advantages to TMAP is we’re not a governmental entity, so we’re able to proceed a little quicker,” he said. “We can get resources together quickly to help seniors who can’t afford to cut down trees that pose a health and safety hazard to them.”

More than 66 million trees are believed to have succumbed to five years of drought and bark beetle infestation throughout the Southern Sierra Nevada, according to the latest U.S. Forest Service estimates.

The county is working with the state on a program to remove dead or dying trees threatening public roads and infrastructure. Although the assistance is not directly extended to homeowners, the county is working to clear as many trees as possible on private land adjacent to public infrastructure.

The state covers 75 percent of the cost for the work under an Oct. 30 executive order on tree mortality by Gov. Jerry Brown.

At a recent budget hearing, county officials warned that the ongoing problem could deplete the county’s $1.6 million in general reserves within two to three years unless the federal government acts to declare the situation in California as a national disaster and provide assistance.

A federal declaration would reduce the county’s share of the cost from 25 to 6.25 percent, county officials say.

Meanwhile, many private landowners throughout the county are reporting more dead trees on their property than they can afford. Hiring a contractor to cut down and remove a single dead tree can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars.

Tom Penhallegon, a Lions Club member who serves as TMAP’s fundraising chairman, said donations received or pledged have topped $30,000 over the past couple months. The group believes they need to raise at least $2 million to address the problem over the next two to five years.

Penhallegon was quick to note that all donations go straight toward cutting down trees, as the program’s administrators are all volunteers.

“We’re saving an awful lot on overhead because the individual clubs are donating to our account for advertising and things like that,” he said.

Penhallegon said the Kiwanis Club of Sonora is planning a fundraiser breakfast at Applebee’s for Oct. 1, but he’s hoping to bring in a lot of donations through a 24-hour “rock-a-thon” scheduled from 6 p.m. Oct. 14 to 6 p.m. Oct. 15 at the Junction Shopping Center in East Sonora.

As opposed to a typical “walk-a-thon” in which teams take turns walking for a 24-hour period, those participating in the “rock-a-thon” will switch off sitting in a rocking chair throughout the day. Penhallegon is hoping to get 30 teams together for the event.

“All the rockers will have their own sponsors and collect money,” he said. “Every bit of it goes to TMAP for taking down trees.”

For more information on the rocking chair event, contact Penhallegon at TMAP2016@yahoo.com , or (209) 694-5191.

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