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Paul Wellman (file)

Oak in a Box


Barney Brantingham recently wrote about a property owner near Carpinteria who was fined for removing an oak tree from her property. She received this fine because she broke the law. Judging by the the amount of the fine, I think anyone would agree that our county takes oak tree removal seriously.

Or does it? We have all been to a magic show, where we know that we are being fooled by illusion. Our county government is no different. It also fools by illusion.

Some years back, the county enacted an Oak Tree Ordinance. This was due to a vintner in Santa Ynez that destroyed hundreds of oak trees. This created outcry from the public, wanting the oaks protected. The county responded with an ordinance to make sure such destruction would not happen again.

The majority of our county is located outside the coastal zone, and most of our oak trees are live oak. If you are a land owner in the majority area with live oaks on your property, there are no laws that would prevent you from taking a chain saw to those oaks on your property. This is because, contrary to what most of us believe, live oak trees are not protected, the canopy is. A property owner can remove 15% of his canopy on his property with no requirements. On a 500-1000 acre ranch, this is substantial. A property owner can eliminate the oldest, most majestic live oak trees on their property and as long as it is within the canopy percentage, there are no laws that can stop the removal.

Lompoc is my hometown, and it is surrounded by pristine natural beauty. We have all driven down Jalama Road on a spring morning and we have all seen this beauty. This beauty is others envy.

Unfortunately this pristine beauty is being destroyed and this destruction is being done legally, with the county’s blessing.

Over the past six years, a property owner on Jalama Road has been harvesting natural live oaks. The county refers to this action as ‘boxing’. This is the act of bulldozing a road to the trees, taking a back hoe and trenching around them, then taking a crane and lifting them into a box. They are then sold and relocated to Montecito estates so that the wealthy can make their back yard look like ours once did.

There is no law to regulate this practice, no permit requirement, no restorations, no county oversight, no safety regulations, and no protection for the environment.

Hundreds of oak trees have reportedly been removed from this property and it continues. What is left behind is no longer pristine. The hills are filled with excessive grading and land slides. The negative effects are substantial, including the absence of oak trees. The act of boxing is rumored to be occurring on one other ranch also.

I grew up on a ranch and I understand that regulations can be a burden on a property owner. I believe a property owner should have the right to remove a few trees if needed for their operation but I also understand that taking removal to extremes warrants regulation.

There is only one difference between the clearing of trees for a vineyard years ago and the clearing of trees for resale today: As we all know, a tree in Carpinteria has been protected. I think the people are less concerned about one tree being removed in Carpinteria than they are about hundreds of trees being removed from our hillsides on the other side of the county. The County has its priorities wrong.

The people of this county spoke up years ago: They wanted our oak trees protected. County government has fooled everyone with the illusion that this is happening, but it’s not. We have all been fooled!

Poof! It’s magic!

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