Before dawn on Feb. 17, 2017, wind gusts in Salinas reached 71 miles per hour. Power lines and trees came down in the storm, leading to power outages and snarled traffic – and a long-term landscape change for Salinas.
That 50-year storm felled some 650 trees, exacerbating a long-smoldering problem. Salinas Public Works officials estimate the city has lost another 350 trees in the past three years, largely due to drought. “We had a terrible loss of trees, sycamores in particular, in the Gabilan Creek and Natividad Creek,” Acting Public Works Director Don Reynolds says.
In an inventory check two years ago, officials found the city’s tree canopy covers less than 8 percent of the city, below a recommended 30 percent.
In an effort to revive its urban forest, the city is joining forces with Sustainable Salinas, a branch of the nonprofit Sustainable Monterey, to return to the recommended 30 percent. However, limited funding has slowed these efforts.
Since the winter storms of 2017, about 25 trees have been replaced, according to City Councilman Steve McShane, a nursery professional who’s helped organize eight tree-planting events. (Most recently, at a planting at Central Park in South Salinas on April 4, he donated three trees from his landscape supply business.)
“This is the beginning of a pretty ambitious project to not just replace the trees,” McShane says, “but to address the larger problem of our urban canopy.”
Ambitious – and expensive. Tree replacement first requires the removal of the stump, which can cost up to $600. Then, planting a 50-gallon tree with a root barrier – to keep the roots from growing above ground, where they can damage roads and sidewalks – is $300.
This year’s budget allocates $400,000 for reforestation efforts, plus another $200,000 for stump removal from an insurance claim the city filed following the storms. (Officials are also waiting to hear back about potential funding from a storm damage claim filed with FEMA.)
Reynolds says reforestation is a long game that requires strategy, chiefly planting where there is existing city-controlled irrigation. (For that reason, trees are now going in at Constitution and Beacon Hill, where 24 trees died in the 2017 winter storms.)
Reynolds’ strategy includes relying on Sustainable Seaside members to do outreach about tree care. In contrast, he cites an outreach effort by Pacific Gas & Electric in 2014. The utility company replaced trees after tearing some out in the course of replacing a gas line, then used door hangers to inform homeowners about care; it takes a full year of weekly watering for a tree to be established. Most of the replacement trees died.
“The only thing worse than not planting trees is having them die,” Reynolds says. “It’s been frustrating, but we learned.”
The city is encouraging residents to use the app MyTreeKeeper to keep track of the 31,000-plus trees within the city, including their benefits. (City officials are building their own version of the app.) According to that data, the city’s trees have absorbed some 1.9 million pounds of carbon dioxide.