Drought and insect infestations have killed millions of trees
The U.S. Forest Service recently reported that more than 26 million trees have died in Southern California since October 2015, largely due to the ongoing drought the state is battling.
About 760,000 acres across six counties (Fresno, Kern, Madera, Mariposa, Tuolumne and Tulare) in the southern Sierra Nevada region of California are now home to more than 66 million dead trees. The 26 million trees found to have died between October 2015 and current join the 40 million trees that were previously determined to have died between 2010 and October 2015.
California is currently in its fifth consecutive year of severe drought, which is a major factor in millions of the tree deaths. Additionally, a large spike in bark beetle infestations also contributed to tree die-off. With climate change being a major part of both the drought and the rise in beetle infestations, it is the driving force behind this mass death of trees.
According to the Forest Service, of the 40 million trees determined to have died between 2010 and October 2015, approximately 30 million -- or three quarters -- succumbed to drought and insect mortality in the relatively short time frame of September 2014 to October 2015. Drought and insect infestations are also thought to be responsible for the vast majority of the death of 26 million trees found in the latest survey, as well.
— EDM Digest (@EDMDigestCom) June 23, 2016
Increased wildfire risk
With 66 million dead trees now sitting in a relatively small region, the threat of wildfire has increased dramatically, officials said.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was very specific, saying that unless Congress acted immediately on funding firefighting, the Forest Service "will not have the resources necessary to address the forest die-off and restore our forests." According to Vilsack, the Forest Service currently pays for wildfire disasters out of its pre-existing fixed budget, and it is desperate need to create an emergency fund so that suppression of massive wildfires can be handled like other natural disasters are in the U.S.
"Tree dies-offs of this magnitude are unprecedented and increase the risk of catastrophic wildfires that puts property and lives at risk. While the fire risk is currently the most extreme in California because of the tree mortality, forests across the country are at risk of wildfire and urgently need restoration requiring a massive effort to remove this tinder and improve their health." -- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack