Clear-cutting Sacramento’s crown jewel

Conservation group calls on PG&E to stop removing trees along American River Parkway

Stephen Green is the president of the Save the American River Association.

Stephen Green is the president of the Save the American River Association.

The American River Parkway is the “crown jewel” of Sacramento County’s park system.

But since late October, PG&E has been clear-cutting corridors in the parkway along its power line easements, removing many healthy, mature trees and ripping out vegetation including elderberry bushes, home to the threatened Valley elderberry longhorn beetle.

This unprecedented clear-cutting operation, which is essentially complete, is the most destructive project we have seen on the parkway.

Save the American River Association, Trees for Sacramento, the California Native Plant Society and the Sierra Club all called on PG&E and Sacramento County to halt the tree removals until PG&E showed that it was complying with environmental requirements and other safeguards. The association repeatedly asked PG&E to produce evidence of an environmental review or permits for removing trees and disturbing protected plant and animal species. PG&E only offered vague and general assurances.

Ground that has been cleared is being rapidly colonized by an invasive thistle. We still have seen no plan for restoration or mitigation. Damage already done must be properly mitigated within the parkway, not in some far-off place. But with PG&E headed into bankruptcy, it seems unlikely it will do any restoration.

Our parkway is far too important to the community for county officials to turn a blind eye to this “scorched earth” approach to removing vegetation. Officials are supposed to protect the parkway and its fragile and rare riparian habitat. On January 15, we went to county supervisors, who told staff to schedule a hearing on what has happened and on what actions should be taken.

Other communities, with local government support, have been able to persuade PG&E to be reasonable in tree removals. But it appears Sacramento County has not even tried to prevent the removal of trees and other vegetation that pose no fire safety threat.

Power lines have been in the parkway since the 1940s without any history of damage from fires. In many areas, power lines are far above the treetops, and there is no possibility that a falling tree would hit them. In addition, the parkway is far more accessible to firefighters than other areas of California where wildfires have occurred.

PG&E must modify its practices to better balance protection from fires and conservation of irreplaceable natural resources.

We hope that our groups, along with the concerned public, will force change at both PG&E and the county to ensure future tree clearing is done in a much more protective manner. Please join us in standing for the protection of our parkway and let your representatives know we must find a better path to providing sensible fire protection.