SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. - Forest Service crews are busy cutting up and removing dead trees in the Los Padres National Forest as part of routine hazardous fuel mitigation work that includes controlled burns.
Scores of dead pines have toppled over across the forest during the recent winter storms.
"We're taking the limbs off those dead trees and we're making piles that we can light and burn in the future," said Matthew Guzman who works with the U.S. Forest Service Fire Prevention Patrol on Figueroa Mountain in northern Santa Barbara County.
Tall, conifer pines that once dominated the landscape of the Los Padres National Forest at higher elevations have been dying off during the recent drought and the infestation of the bark beetle that has ravaged pine forests all along the Central Coast and the state.
"During the larvae stage they'll come out and they'll start eating the bark, and that's what your're looking at here," said Helen Tarbet with the Forest Service.
"Now we're just watching the forest, this area on Figueroa Mountain, turn into what the ecologist is typecasting as more of an oak savanna," Guzman said. "The conifer trees are on their way out and the oak trees are the dominant species up here at Figueroa."
As the oaks spread further up into the forest, they pose just as much of a threat to wildfire as the pines once the wet season is over.
"If the weather is favorable and the conditions are right we will be up here trying to make sure we can get a lot of this heavy fire hazard off the ground in a controlled manner," Guzman said.