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article imageCalifornia's 102 million dead and dying trees 'unprecedented'

By Karen Graham     Nov 20, 2016 in Environment
In its latest aerial survey released on Friday, the U.S. Forest Service said 62 million trees in California forest died this year, bringing the six-year total to 102 million trees lost.
Scientists are blaming the five-plus year drought that has ravaged California for the tree deaths, saying that tree fatalities increased by 100 percent in 2016.
Scientists point out that the rates of tree deaths have increased much faster than expected, increasing the threat of ecological erosion and the risk of even bigger and deadlier wildfires than those that were seen this year.
“It’s not beyond the pale to suggest that this is a pretty unprecedented event in at least recent history,” a U.S. Geological Survey ecologist tells the San Francisco Chronicle.
There are 21 million acres of trees in California's national forests. The dead trees, some of which can live over 100 years, represent one-third of the trees left. In other words, of the 21 million acres of trees, 7.7 million acres of trees are dead.
The lack of precipitation has left trees struggling to get the life-giving water they need to survive and made them more susceptible to bark beetle infestation. And while Northern California started off the year wet, the central and southern parts of the state continue to suffer from "extreme" and "exceptionable" drought conditions.
Christian Science Monitor is reporting that forestry officials are saying that even if historic levels of precipitation were to blanket the state this winter, trees would continue to die off in 2017 and 2018.
The U.S. Forestry Service has already earmarked $43 million to repair eroded roads and trails all through the state's wooded areas, but officials say that way too much money is being spent on fighting the ever-increasing number of wildfires.
With 56 percent of the Forest Service's budget already used up, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has petitioned Congress to classify wildfires as "disasters," hopefully releasing additional funding to help in fighting them.
But the wildfires burning in eight southeastern states today hasn't been taken into account with Vilsack's petition, as of yet. Wildfires have already burned 119,000 acres in the Southeast, and 6,300 firefighters have been deployed to fight them.
There is a persistent and dangerous side-effect to the huge numbers of dead and dying trees still left in the forests. Having millions of dead and dying trees left around increases the risk of wildfires, and falling trees impose a risk on humans in the area.
Fires can start easier, burn hotter and damage the soil, says the forest service. Money spent on wildfires could have been used to restore dead and damaged forests. Now, California officials are trying to decide what to do with the dead trees. Some ideas being suggested include using them for lumber or burning them for electricity.
More about California, dead and dying trees, 5year drought, Forest fires, 21 million acres
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