Home Emergency Management News Nearly 70 Million Dead Trees Found in Southern Sierra Nevada

Nearly 70 Million Dead Trees Found in Southern Sierra Nevada


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.

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

Matt Mills Matt Mills has been involved in various aspects of online media, both on the editorial side and on the technology side, for more than 16 years. He holds a Master's Degree in Journalism from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, and is currently involved in multiple projects focused on innovation journalism.