Boom in demand for defensible space | SierraSun.com

Boom in demand for defensible space

Joanna Hartman
Sierra Sun
Ryan Salm/Sierra SunSteve Hyde of Cut-Rite Tree and Spray Service speaks to a client about their defensible space on Thursday in Homewood. Cut-Rite Tree and Spray Service averages about four defensible space jobs a week, some of which take a full day or more.
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It took the devastating Angora wildfire in South Lake Tahoe to motivate many North Shore and Truckee homeowners to protect their houses with defensible space, leading to a recent boom in fuel-treatment business.

“Immediately after the fire, the call log doubled,” said T.J. Johnson, the owner of Arbor Care of Tahoe. “It’s unfortunate that it takes a catastrophe for people to start doing proper forest management.”

Since the Angora fire, North Tahoe Fire Protection District staff have been swamped with pleas to clear brush, mark trees and chip brush and felled trees. They usually conduct defensible-space projects at about 600 houses from June through October, but this summer are receiving more than 30 calls a day for chipping alone.

“Defensible-space inspections have got me running, and I imagine they will continue in the next couple months,” said Forest Fuels Program Manager Stewart McMorrow of the North Tahoe fire district. “Everyone’s scared by this fire and it pushed a lot of people into action ” I hope it lasts.”

The fire district, along with others in Truckee and the Tahoe Basin, now has the authority to mark trees for removal on private property.

“We were preaching about [defensible space], but I think it took the Angora fire for people to take it seriously,” said Dave Ruben, North Tahoe Fire battalion chief. “If our local businesses are doing well, whether it’s a tree company [or not], then it’s good for our area.”

Due to increased interest, Truckee-Tahoe tree service providers have had to step up to the plate answering a surplus of calls about defensible space.

“I’ve definitely received more calls at this point in the summer compared to other summers,” said Brian Rye, owner-president of Bushwacker’s Tree Service. “We’ve always advertised our ability to do defensible space. It’s always been a concern, but I have noticed more inquiries after the fire.”

Tahoe City’s Turner Tree Service owner Mike Turner described a similar experience.

“Probably three-quarters of the people calling me now have some type of defensible-space issue ” most of it’s clearance,” Turner said. “Yeah, it’s definitely stepped up.”

The cost of forest management services vary. With Arbor Care of Tahoe, jobs start at $150 and can cost upward of $15,000. But with the recent shift in supply and demand, tree service businesses have the chance to profit.

“We are taking steps strategically and carefully to use the opportunity that is there,” Johnson said of his firm’s marketing efforts.

Officials agree that whether or not it took a 3,100-acre fire to motivate North Tahoe and Truckee residents to address defensible space, the fire’s aftermath has resulted in a positive course of action for homeowners, the surrounding community and for business.

“If [tree service businesses] can capitalize on a niche needed in the community, then they should. I see it as just another facet for economic diversification for our area,” said North Tahoe Fire’s Ruben.