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New Aerial Survey Identifies 36 Million More Dead Trees in California


The U.S. Forest Service estimates 62 million trees died in California in 2016, more than a 100 percent increase from 2015. The majority of the 102 million dead trees are located in 10 counties in the southern and central Sierra Nevada.

The results of a new aerial survey by the U.S. Forest Service announced Nov. 18, 2016 have identified an additional 36 million dead trees across California since its last aerial survey in May 2016. The Forest Service states that since 2010, its aerial surveys have tabulated over 102 million dead trees.

The Forest Service reports an increasing mortality in the northern part of the state, including Siskiyou, Modoc, Plumas and Lassen counties. Five consecutive years of severe drought in California, a dramatic rise in bark beetle infestation and warmer temperatures are leading to these historic levels of tree die-offs.

In October 2015, California Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency on the unprecedented tree die-offs and formed a Tree Mortality Task Force to help mobilize additional resources for the safe removal of dead and dying trees.

The U.S. Forest Service reprioritized $43 million in California for the 2016 fiscal year to conduct safety-focused restoration along roads, trails and recreation sites. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Forest Service officials say they are seriously hampered by short-term budgets, but also because Forest Service resources are increasing going to firefighting, with less invested in restoration and forest health. "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 across California," explained Vilsack. "USDA has made restoration work and the removal of excess fuels a top priority, but until Congress passes a permanent fix to the fire budget, we can't break this cycle of diverting funds away from restoration work to fight the immediate threat of the large unpredictable fires caused by the fuel buildups themselves."

California had a record setting wildfire season this year. The Blue Cut fire (Cajon Pass, northeastern San Gabriel Mountains, and Mojave Desert in San Bernardino County) burned over 30,000 acres and forced the evacuation of 80,000 people.

Longer, hotter fire seasons and extreme fire behavior has become the new norm, dramatically driving up the cost of fighting fires and squeezing funding for efforts to protect watersheds and help restore forests. Last year fire management alone consumed 56 percent of the Forest Service's budget and is anticipated to rise to 67 percent by 2025.

The U.S. Forest Service manages 193 million acres of public land, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Public lands managed by the Forest Service contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone and provide 20 percent of the nation's clean water supply.

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July 19, 2019, 2:37 pm PDT

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