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VALLEY FOCUS | Calabasas

Ecologist Targets Parks' Weak Trees

September 28, 1998|SUE FOX

If a tree falls in a forest, Suzanne Goode isn't much concerned with whether it makes a sound.

She's more worried about whether a building, picnic table or portable restroom might be beneath it.

Every other year, Goode, a resource ecologist with the state Department of Parks and Recreation, inspects trees near areas frequented by people in Malibu Creek State Park. On Friday morning, she began her task near the visitors center, in a shady glen with a picnic table known as Cedar Grove.

Goode was looking for "targets"--places where "if a branch or a whole tree were to come down and hit it, it would be bad," she said. In the next two weeks, she will canvass state parks throughout the Malibu and Topanga sectors of the parks' Angeles District, a 40,000-acre region.

After a few minutes, she found an aging cedar, its bark partially burned from a 1983 fire. Binoculars slung over her shoulder, Goode stooped next to the tree and thumped it gently with a metal hammer, listening for the sound of hollow wood. She stroked the scars left by the fire, noting a patch of living wood that is trying to heal the wounds.

"This one does have some weakness to it," she said. "But I don't think it's going to fall down in the next two years."

Near the visitors center, Mike Phillips, another park official, asked Goode to look at a sycamore whose branches were blocking a driveway.

"This bottom one here," he said, tapping a sagging bough. "It's not going to take much to get it to bounce back up." Goode agreed that the tree needed a slight manicure.

Sometimes, if a tree is healthy, Goode said she will mitigate any danger to people or property by simply moving the target--for example, relocating a portable restroom.

But certain trees, or their errant branches, must go. Once she identifies those due for some chopping or clipping, Goode said, she will lead contractors interested in bidding for the jobs around the parks.

Of the dozen cedars and several oaks scattered about Cedar Grove, Goode marked only one, a withered tree with no leaves, for removal.

"I am going to take this one out because it's totally dead," she said. "It's not a native, and it'll fall and probably take out some other trees."

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