The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously authorized the termination of the county's local emergency status, which was proclaimed on Sept. 24, 2002, at the peak of a bark beetle infestation spurred by years of drought. The status had been renewed monthly ever since.
Emergency funding for the county, however, will not officially cease until June 30, said Peter Brierty, assistant chief of the San Bernardino County Fire Department.
The infestation killed more than 1 million pine trees in the overgrown forest and fueled the Old Fire in October 2003, which burned more than 90,000 acres in the San Bernardino Mountains.More than 6 million acres of California forest were threatened by bark beetle infestations at the height of the crisis in 2003, when then-Gov. Gray Davis proclaimed a state of emergency for San Bernardino, Riverside, Los Angeles, and San Diego counties.
The San Bernardino National Forest is the most popular and populated forest in the U.S., with $8 billion in residential, business and infrastructure risk, Brierty said.
"When the bark beetle hit, it had this overabundance of trees and it just had a field day," Brierty said.
Each tree bred thousands of the bugs - so many that despite each being half the size of a grain of rice, they could be seen in swarms, Brierty said.
"We just saw tree after tree dying and then, eventually, thousands of trees dying," he said.
The emergency proclamation enabled the county to receive $59 million in federal and state funding for tree removal and expedited environmental review processes, Brierty said.
In addition, utility companies and community action groups dug into their pockets to help in the efforts to protect mountain residents from the threat of fire danger.
Southern California Edison contributed $200 million for the removal of dead trees, Brierty said.
More than a decade of tree removal and efforts by public safety agencies and mountain residents to stabilize the forest has paid off.
"The forest is green," Brierty said. "We don't have the bark beetle die-off anymore."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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