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City tree deaths surpass 3,000

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The number of trees the City of Bakersfield has had to remove due to drought and infestation has grown to more than 3,200, with another 692 on a list for removal.

The city estimates it has 100,000 to 120,000 trees, so between 2.7 and 3.2 percent of its canopy has been pulled out over the past two years, according to Recreation and Parks Director Dianne Hoover. They were removed from parks and street medians, and alongside roads.

More than half of the trees removed since January 2015 have been coastal redwoods, which once thrived here due to Tule fog. But with the drought and more city development, which reduces the amount of fog, the Coastal Redwoods have not done as well as in previous years, Hoover said.

Melissa Iger, executive director of the Tree Foundation of Kern, said the result is striking.

"They kind of jump out at ya — all that brown," she said.

Just like millions of trees throughout the state, Bakersfield's drought-stricken canopy has been further weakened by resulting insect infestation.  Other trees the city has removed due to drought and possible infestation are deodar cedar, crepe myrtle and liquid amber, the latter often being planted along streets because of its ability to grow quickly.

"Drought stress has been a major kicker," Iger said, "and the bugs know that."

The southwest and northwest of Bakersfield seem to have been most affected by the drought, Hoover said. She said she didn't know why.

The city no longer permits developers to plant coastal redwoods, and the city uses underground irrigation for trees in new developments because it's more efficient. Last year, the city installed water-smart irrigation, which monitors the weather and limits water usage during storms and cooler temperatures.

The city does not have enough money to replace all the trees, Hoover said, so it will apply for more state grants. 

Currently the city is trying to replace smaller plants, such as bushes, which were lost to the drought. In cases where a street is being revamped, the city will re-landscape the medians to be more drought-friendly, adding elements like artificial turf.

Stockdale Highway is such an example, where trees are watered by underground irrigation and surrounded by rocks or bricks instead of grass.

The city plans to revitalize California Avenue through central Bakersfield next, and it will receive similar treatment, replacing the aging, green asphalt.

This lower-maintenance landscape, Hoover said, also improves city worker safety because crews won't be mowing a tiny strip surrounded by cars.

While Gov. Jerry Brown has rescinded his drought declaration, Hoover said her department will continue its water-saving measures until told otherwise.

Dorothy Mills-Gregg can be reached at (661) 395-7368. Follow her on Twitter via @TBCCityBeat.

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