By John Ramos

CAMP MEEKER (KPIX 5) — PG&E is in the midst of an aggressive campaign to remove trees threatening its power lines, but how that’s being done may be making some areas more vulnerable to wildfires.

Camp Meeker is a small community hidden in the redwoods west of Santa Rosa. Richard Seaman lives there and he’s appalled by the way PG&E has trimmed the redwoods to protect its power lines along the highway.

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In some places, they look more like chopsticks than trees. Seaman believes it is actually raising the risk of wildfire to his community.

“Because you don’t have the shade anymore. The sun comes in and dries all that fuel up and makes it more combustible,” Seaman said.  “And you’ve also lost all of the fog drip, they call it. The redwoods gather the fog; it drips onto the ground and dampens everything. So you’ve lost all of that.”

Redwoods form a natural canopy that blocks the light hitting the ground creating very little undergrowth. Remove their branches and the terrain begins to fill with highly flammable grass and bushes.

Seaman says PG&E’s vegetation policy isn’t taking into account the unique science of redwoods.

“For the redwood forests, I believe there isn’t an understanding,” he said. “There’s a one-size-fits-all solution which is good for most of the state, but it doesn’t work for the redwood forest.”

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PG&E says it is simply addressing branches near power lines and is meeting state standards for clearance.

“In response to the growing wildfire threat, we have expanded and enhanced our vegetation and safety work. This includes addressing vegetation that poses a higher potential for wildfire risk in high fire-threat areas,” PG&E spokesperson Deanna Contreras said in a written statement.

But Seaman says it may be making the power lines safer while increasing the risk down below.

“My concern is that they’re doing this work at great expense, which will be on people’s power bills. They’re causing a lot of environmental damage and they’re going to make the wildfire risk greater,” he said.

The wildfire risk to California’s redwood forests grew in the 1860’s when settlers began clear-cutting trees, allowing more flammable vegetation to rise up from the forest floor.

Seaman has secured a grant for a proposal to remove lower level vegetation to allow the redwoods to get back to a more healthy state. If that happens, it would make Camp Meeker a living laboratory to study the natural wildfire resistance of the redwood forest.

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