BY MARGARET MAGNUS
When setting up the first meeting with ISA® Certified Arborist Michael Inaba to make a preliminary assessment of a "special large oak" at Meher Mount, he asked, “Does that special tree have a name?” Margaret Magnus smiled to herself and said, “Yes, Baba’s Tree.” Then she inquired why he had asked.
Inaba said he had had dinner soon after the December 2017 Thomas Fire with some people who live on Sulphur Mountain. They were recounting the fire damage in the area and mentioned the tree. He later referred to Baba’s Tree as a landmark tree.
On January 5, 2018, Meher Mount met with Inaba to evaluate Baba's Tree and to draw up a survival and regeneration plan.
SURVIVAL PLAN FOR BABA’S TREE
Since that first meeting, Inaba has visited Meher Mount several times to further develop the plan for Baba's Tree. At this point, it’s impossible to predict the long-term outcome.
Meher Mount is taking steps toward Baba's Tree survival and regeneration.
1. Bracing the Tree Limbs
There are several remaining limbs attached to Baba’s Tree that have the opportunity for recovery. But they are weak. They need to be supported so they do not break and fall. The breakage would severely limit the ability of Baba’s Tree to recover and could do more damage to the trunk that is sustaining the limbs. They could also endanger an offspring of Baba's Tree, affectionately called Baby Baba’s Tree.
In addition, standing under Baba’s Tree would be unsafe for visitors or workers. There is a substantial risk of being struck by falling, unsupported limbs.
All the guidelines for the care of Coast Life Oaks (Quercus agrifolia) indicate that once a tree is established, it doesn’t need to be watered other than natural rainfall. However, the multi-year drought and the 2017 Thomas Fire have changed that guideline for Baba’s Tree.
To have a greater probability of survival, Baba’s Tree needs carefully calibrated and consistent watering for an undetermined period of time.
To provide easy access to water at Baba's Tree, a group of volunteers have installed 300-hundred feet of pipe, with shut-off valves at either end, from the pool/reservoir across the meadow to Baba’s Tree. The next step will be installing the actual watering mechanisms to be placed about 10-15 feet from the dripline.
3. Sunburn Protection
The living lower limbs that previously were shaded by the canopy of Baba’s Tree have small buds growing on them indicating life. The tree’s natural regeneration process has started. These buds and the bark of the tree are now at risk of sunburn due to the loss of much of the canopy. They need to be protected. Meher Mount is working with Inaba to select the best means of sunburn protection which will also allow light and air to help the new buds grow.
Mulch attracts organisms that help support the health of Coast Live Oaks. There is natural mulch available from the downed leaves and twigs from Baba’s Tree.
In addition, there are several Coast Live Oaks on the property that were burned with broken and fallen parts. Mulch and wood chips from the other oaks on the property can be used for Baba’s Tree. Given the size of these trees and their limbs, Meher Mount will hire a professional crew for this work.
5. Preventive Pest Protection
There are two visually indistinguishable, but genetically distinct, bark beetle "predator” species of Coast Live Oaks: the Polyphagous Shot Hole Borer (PSHB) and the Kuroshio Shot Hole Borer (KSHB).
Originating in Southeast Asia, these ambrosia beetle species bring and feed upon pathogenic symbiotic fungi (Fusarium euwallacea) in ambrosia "gardens" which they cultivate. 
This deadly duo of beetle and fungus is wreaking havoc from San Diego to Los Angeles Counties. Nobody has identified PSHB at Meher Mount. However, it is established in Santa Paula, about 30 miles away.
Protecting the tree in its weakened state is a good idea, says Inaba, because even the native borers and bark beetles can be highly destructive. “I describe them as ‘nature’s wrecking crew,’ and they’re good at the job. I see more and more unusual fire pathology as I visit more fire damaged properties.”
Meher Mount needs to act to prevent the infestation of the PHSB in Baba’s Tree. The topical application of a mild agent creates a barrier to the beetle without endangering other creatures. This action is required every three to four months.
6. Seclusion Fence
Baba’s Tree needs seclusion while it recovers. “There’s much to be gained with a seclusion fence, while the tree adjusts to the new conditions,” says Inaba. “It was a harrowing, life threatening event for Baba’s Tree.”
The seclusion fence protects the ground around Baba’s Tree so that the mulch can do its work without foot traffic compacting the soil. It also prevents the disruption of the irrigation system, the sunburn protection and the tree support. And, the fence will keep visitors safe from tree debris, roots and branches.
PRESERVATION OF THE WOOD FROM BABA'S TREE
Meher Mount has a plan for preserving the fallen and dead wood of Baba’s Tree.
This plan includes gathering the ash, limbs, branches and twigs for preservation; milling the larger limbs for wood that can be used to create visitor benches and other items for Meher Mount; and preserving and storing this wood. Limbs and twigs that are not suitable for milling will be tagged, sorted and stored for future use as keepsakes.