Overcoming "Tree Fear"

The following is an editorial written by Ojai Trees board member Caryn Bosson:

Although trees may at times burn and die and fall, people should not be scared of them. What’s scary is not having trees. 

The board of Ojai Trees has become concerned with the bad rap that trees seem to be getting lately in the Ojai Valley. In the aftermath of the Thomas Fire, and in our ongoing drought, some people think that cutting trees down, or drastically pruning them, will keep us safer. It will not.

Trees make life possible. They do this not only by producing oxygen and absorbing carbon dioxide (more important now than ever), sustaining wildlife and the balance of nature, and a thousand other benefits: trees are an integral part of the water cycle. When you take out a tree, you don’t actually save water. You lose water.

How’s that? 

Think of trees as giant sponges. When it rains, trees capture water in their canopies, and direct it along their trunks to their roots. The soil in their root zone allows water to percolate down into groundwater where it’s stored. When it’s sunny, trees draw that water up into their leaves, and it evaporates into the air. This moisture adds to creating clouds. Where forests have been cut down, the weather dries out and the land bakes.

Here in Ojai, during our sustained drought, some water for our trees is important, even if we’re cutting back on watering other plants. Watering trees actually can conserve landscape water because, by shading our gardens, trees can reduce other plants’ water requirements. If the water comes from barrels or tanks we’ve connected to our roof gutters to capture rainwater, this doesn’t add pressure to dwindling Lake Casitas. (See ojaitrees.org/treecare for watering tips). 

With our ongoing fire threat, Ojai’s trees should be managed, but they don’t need to be cut down. There are excellent guidelines at the website readyforwildfire.org about creating “defensible space” around homes for fire prevention. Recommendations include cutting back dead branches, trimming limbs up 6 to 10 feet off the ground, and spacing plantings. To be clear: creating defensible space doesn’t mean that trees should be cleared. Quite the contrary. Some trees, especially native trees, such as oaks, are amazingly fire resistant. 

As you look around and see scorched oaks and other trees coming back to life after the Thomas Fire, thank them for continuing to sustain us. And consider planting even more.

Here's an example of a rebounding native Live Oak.