Forest Health Task Force tackles RSF’s lerp problem

Rancho Santa Fe’s Forest Health Task Force came together for the first time in nine years on Monday morning, prompted by the red gum lerp psyllid’s attack on eucalyptus trees this year.

The task force hopes to save as many trees as possible and help get the word out to the community by starting an informative Web site.

“Hopefully the second time around will be a charm,” said Christy Wilson, the Rancho Santa Fe Foundation president and task force chair.

The group will next meet on Aug. 3 at 9 a.m.

Association Manager Pete Smith said that the association has been receiving three or more phone calls a day regarding the trees, when they usually average about five a month on a given issue.

“There is a lot of concern and confusion,” said the association’s Shannon Mountain, who answers most of the calls. “I don’t think anybody knows what to do.”

Smith said they haven’t yet seen a solution that really works. Injections of pesticides such as Imicide or Merit have been successful in some cases and not in others. The wasps that feast on the lerp psyllids are coming back with the warm weather but it’s yet to be determined whether or not they can keep pace.

“There is no quick fix,” Smith said. “We need to address deterioration, minimize the impact and get a new healthier forest and that’s going to be a long process.”

The task force hopes to put together a fact sheet to send out to members to help answer a broad range of questions. For now they are advising members to try a course of action on key trees on their property, be it injections or increased irrigation.

Paul Flores of Rancho Tree Service said that in cases where injections have worked, it’s often when trees have been “babied” with aggressive irrigation.

He does not recommend injecting trees in open areas without irrigation and he also said that after two or three injections to a single tree, owners find another alternative or let nature take its course.

Flores said that he’s not sure that the timing is right for injections - he’d prefer to do injections in early spring or late winter.

Water restrictions make it difficult to rely so much on watering, especially after Nov. 1 when the Santa Fe Irrigation District will impose only one day a week watering for homeowners.

“It’s pretty hard for even a healthy tree to survive that, it’s going to be tough for these trees,” said Fran Lambert of Mariposa Tree Service. “I’m hesitant to be optimistic.”

Lambert suggested that residents take advantage of the water district’s free water audits to see where they could be unknowingly wasting water and how to irrigate their landscaping smarter.

Also in play in the Ranch is the Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District’s effort to remove dead or drying trees that pose fire risks.

The district issued 250 notices to property owners this year to remove dead and dying trees according to Fire Marshal Cliff Hunter. Fire district staff reviews trees that are within 30 feet of the roadway or within 100 feet of structures.

The fire department issues a first notice, followed by a second and third. After the third, the tree is removed and the resident is charged on their tax bill.

Association board member Dick Doughty said people are scared when they receive the notices, especially if they don’t have the funds to cover a removal.

Smith said they are exploring options to help homeowners through Fire Safe Council grants.