Property owners get green light to remove certain flammable trees

Unincorporated San Mateo County property owners get green light to remove certain flammable trees

in Community

Property owners in unincorporated areas of San Mateo County will no longer need permits to remove certain highly flammable, large trees situated within 100 feet of homes or 30 feet of an escape route on public or private property, per County officials. Starting July 1, 2021 through July 1, 2022, the County is waiving the tree-removal permit, saving qualifying property owners the typical $350 fee.

Trees that can be removed without a permit are eucalyptus, pines, acacia, tan oak and bay, said County officials. Property owners are still required to apply for a permit prior to removing “significant” redwood, Douglas fir, oaks (other than tan oaks), maples, buckeyes and other trees not encompassed by the permit exemption.

According to San Mateo County Supervisor Don Horsley, “Reducing the fuel load by removing trees helps in two big ways: First, it lessens the risk for the types of devastating fires we’ve seen here locally and across California in the past year. And second, it gives firefighters what they call the defensible space they need to protect lives and property.”

Although the exemption encompasses all of unincorporated San Mateo County, namely areas outside of cities, the primary focus is on the thickly forested areas spanning Skyline Boulevard and westward to the Pacific Ocean, per County officials.

Ian Larkin of CalFire’s San Mateo-Santa Cruz Unit said that the CZU Lightning Complex underscored that “local wildfire conditions are becoming increasingly dangerous,” and added that “in one 24-hour period last August, we saw more acres of San Mateo County consumed by wildfire than in the previous 100 years combined.” Lower-than-average rainfall has caused “exceptional drought conditions, widespread tree mortality and below average fuel and soil moistures,” he said.

Overall, last summer’s CZU Lightning Complex burned approximately 135 square miles in southern San Mateo and northern Santa Cruz counties, which when combined with other wildfires, made 2020 the worst year on record for fires in California, said County officials.

In creating the exemption, County officials collaborated with numerous agencies and organizations, such as Cal Fire, the San Mateo Resource Conservation District and large landholders, like the Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST), said the County.

According to the formal Notice Regarding Permit Exemption for Tree Removal, said the County, the exemption applies to hazardous trees presenting a major fire hazard risk, as well as a hazard to life and property. “Anyone who removes trees covered by the exemption must have written permission from the property owner,” said County officials, adding that it is the responsibility of property owners to dispose of debris properly.

To receive help identifying if a tree is covered by the exemption, contact the Resource Conservation District at Learn more about the permit exemption for hazardous trees here.

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