Sonora, CA — The US Forest Service has spotted an additional 26 million dead trees in California since October of 2015. The area surveyed stretches across the Sierra Nevada and includes the counties of Tuolumne, Mariposa, Tulare, Madera, Kern and Fresno. The number is in addition to the 40 million trees the Forest Service located between 2010 and late 2015.
US Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who released the findings, specifically attributes the dramatic rise to bark beetle infestation and warmer temperatures.
Vilsack says, “Tree die-offs of this magnitude are unprecedented and increase the risk of catastrophic wildfires that put 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. Unfortunately, unless Congress acts now to address how we pay for firefighting, the Forest Service will not have the resources necessary to address the forest die-off and restore our forests. Forcing the Forest Service to pay for massive wildfire disasters out of its pre-existing fixed budget instead of from an emergency fund like all other natural disasters means there is not enough money left to do the very work that would help restore these high mortality areas. We must fund wildfire suppression like other natural disasters in the country.”
In response to high tree mortality, the Forest Service reports that it has felled over 77,000 hazard trees, treated over 13,000 acres along 228 miles of roads around community and recreation sites, and created 1,100 acres of fuel breaks. Work on another 15,000 acres is currently in progress.