published on December 9, 2016 - 4:36 PM
Written by The Business Journal Staff
As California enters its second consecutive winter with projected average rainfalls, the Sierra Nevada mountain range is still reeling from the affects of a five-year drought.


For many trees, the recent rain is too little, too late to protect them from damage caused by the intrusive bark beetle, whose tracks lay down a mold that ultimately kills any infested tree. The beetles are native to the forest, but under normal circumstance struggle for survival as healthy trees produce sap that keeps them away. Without enough water, trees lose the ability to produce sap and protect themselves from the beetle.

According to the most recent survey by the U.S. Forest Service shows 36 million more trees have died since May, bringing the total tree death toll as a result of the drought to 102 million. U.S. Forest officials expect that number to rise well into 2017.

While this devastation has certainly affected the picturesque landscape of the otherwise lush and green Sierra Nevada, the multitude of dead and dying trees could cause worse problems if not properly brought down.

“These dead and dying trees continue to elevate the risk of wildfire, complicate our efforts to respond safely and effectively to fires when they do occur and pose a host of threats to life and property,” U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement.

As the state scrambles to remove these trees before they fall on their own, some Fresnans are trying to bring awareness to the beauty of the wood itself and encouraging others to use it, rather than leave it to rot on the forest floor.

The new owners of Full Circle Brewing have come out of the gate swinging in their mission to use pints for a purpose.

At first, their aim was simply to use the wood from these trees, appropriately called killwood, in the brewery’s redesign.

“I was first impacted by what is going on when I was in Bass Lake,” co-owner Arthur Moye said. “I stood there by this single tree where there had been tons of trees before and I realized this was a much bigger deal than I thought. I felt we had to do something to use the wood or incorporate it somehow.”

Moye and his fellow Full Circle Brewing owners had the wood milled at RPM Milling in Downtown Fresno and fell in love with the result, which is the brewery’s beautiful blue-stained bark beetle wood wall.

Sarah Moffat, also a Full Circle Brewing co-owner, said most people hear of mold in the trees and imagine the fuzzy growths of an old slice of cheese, but in this case, she said, the mold is different—it kills the tree, but that is it, and it leaves the wood with a unique finish.

“The wood is perfect and structurally sound — it’s just not aesthetically pleasing to some,” Moffat said. “People who are building homes hear there could be mold in wood and they think ‘I don’t want that here’ but they use it for things that get painted over like baseboards and doors. This wood is painted over constantly, but we’re showing that it’s wonderful. Our wall is killwood pine from the Sierra Nevada Forest and it’s beautiful.”

As more customers reacted positively to the blue-stained wall behind the bar, Full Circle Brewing owners knew they could do more.

Now, Full Circle’s goal is to not only promote use of killwood — which can also be seen on the brewery’s tap handles and soon will be used for everything from coasters, chairs and tables to a new bar top — but to help residents in the Sierra struggling to fall the trees on their properties.

“There is a lot of funding to knock them down, but when it comes to private homeowners, there isn’t a lot to help them,” Moffat said.

To remedy this, the brewery recently released its seventh beer, Killwood IPA. Proceeds from the beers sales — 50 cents per pint — will go into a grant fund to help homeowners safely remove dead trees on their property. Moffat said it takes $300 to $1,000 to fall a single tree.

“If you mention this to most people in the Central Valley, you will hear stories like ‘my uncle has a property and he needs to knock down 10 trees and it’s going to cost him $10,000.’ We hear stories like this all the time so this is a problem. We decided we needed to do what we can to help,” Moffat said.

Moye said the beer itself is reminiscent of the Sierra Nevada, with a piney, citrusy flavor profile and aroma, combined with the hefty dose of hops IPA lovers crave.

“IPAs are the flagship. Everyone wants an IPA, so we just set out to have a very clean, drinkable IPA that was also piney and citrusy,” Moye said.

Moye and Moffat envision that one day residents in the foothills will be sipping a pint of Killwood IPA at their local bar while giving back to their own community with their beer purchase. They also see Yosemite’s many visitors learning about the seriousness of the drought through the story of the beer and the wood.

“I think 50 percent of the people who go to Yosemite National Park are from Los Angeles and they have no idea what is happening here. So if they visit Yosemite and get this message, they will see this is something that is a real concern,” Moffat said. “Just having these conversations is helpful. We’re excited to help in any tiny way we can.”

Whatever dollar amount Full Circle Brewing is able to raise for Sierra Nevada homeowners, Moye agreed it is all about getting those conversations started.

“It’s about awareness,” he said. “If you shine a light on something, then other people will hopefully get involved too. Then, the impact is greater.”

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