In Sonora, California, a wooden snowman on the lawn says much more than “Happy Holidays.”
The snowmen, like the wooden pumpkins that decorated homes at Halloween, are a sign of support for the Sonora Lions’ Tree Mortality Aid Program (TMAP).
Through TMAP, Lions are using the wood of beetle-killed trees to create decorative lawn ornaments that they sell to raise money. That money helps low-income and elderly with the cost of removing other beetle-killed trees on their property.
Sonora lies in the middle of the Central Sierra where state officials estimate about 66 million trees have died from the lethal combination of drought and beetle infestation. While most of these trees are on land owned by the federal government, not all are. For homeowners, taking down one dead tree can be difficult and expensive. Many people have more than one.
Removal of the dead trees is essential, Lion and retired Forest Service employee Glenn Gottschall explained to his club last year. Dead trees near the home present a falling hazard and a fire hazard. But many people cannot afford to have the work done or cannot do it themselves.
Faced with that problem, Past District Governor and Sonora Lion Tom Penhallegon came up with the idea to organize the TMAP. With the support of other Sonora agencies, more than 100 people have been identified as in need of assistance, and more than 150 trees on private property have been cleared, says Penhallegon.
“The fire hazard has become so apparent this year. The average cost to remove trees around a residence is $1,000 per tree, and many of these homes have between four and 14 trees that need to be removed to bring them into compliance with the state,” he says.
Lions get the 3-inch-thick rounds of wood, and with some dowel rods, buttons, paint, a hand-me-down scarf and a little artistic talent, they take a bad situation and turn it into a fundraiser and smile inducer.
The festive pieces have been popular, and the program has raised $27,000, he says. The Lions and other civic organizations want to increase that to $1 million.
TMAP has also received grants from state, corporate and local entities totaling more than $100,000. The rest is being raised by projects from Lions, Kiwanis and Rotary clubs, and local donors, and Lions expect the project to be ongoing for at least two more years.