129 Million Dead Trees Blight California Landscapes - Mountain News : News

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129 Million Dead Trees Blight California Landscapes

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Posted: Thursday, January 18, 2018 10:17 am

An additional 27 million trees have died throughout California over the past year, bringing the total number to “a staggering 129 million dead trees” on 8.9 million acres, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) announced in a joint statement with Cal Fire. The trees, which have died due to drought and bark beetles, continue to pose a hazard to people and critical infrastructure.

“The number of dead and dying trees has continued to rise, along with the risks to communities and firefighters if a wildfire breaks out in these areas,” said Randy Moore, regional forester of the USFS, Pacific Southwest Region.

“It is apparent from our survey flights this year that California’s trees have not yet recovered from the drought, and remain vulnerable to beetle attacks and increased wildfire threat. The USDA Forest Service will continue to focus on mitigating hazard trees and thinning overly dense forests so they are healthier and better able to survive stressors like this in the future.”

Moore continued, “To increase the pace and scale of this important work, we need to fix how fire suppression is funded. Last year fire management alone consumed 56 percent of the USDA Forest Service’s national budget. As fire suppression costs continue to grow as a percentage of the USDA Forest Service’s budget, funding is shrinking for non-fire programs that protect watersheds and restore forests, making them more resilient to wildfire and drought.”

Although California received record-breaking rains in winter 2016-17, the effects of five years of severe drought, a dramatic rise in bark beetle infestation and rising temperatures have led to historic levels of tree die-off.

The Tree Mortality Task Force (TMTF) – more than 80 local, state and federal agencies and private utility companies – continues to remove hazardous dead trees. To date, TMTF members and the USFS have felled or removed more than 1 million dead trees.

The TMTF members focus on public safety by removing dead and dying trees in high-hazard areas. To improve forest health, the USFS and Cal Fire have increased their pace and scale of prescribed fire. The USFS has treated more than 55,000 acres and Cal Fire has completed more than 33,000 acres in fuel treatment projects. By combining tree removal with prescribed fire, the crews decrease overly dense stands of trees, reduce greenhouse gases and protect communities statewide.

“Tree mortality at this magnitude takes on-going cooperation between public, nonprofit and private entities,” said Chief Ken Pimlott, Cal Fire director and California’s state forester. “California’s forests are a critical part of the state’s strategy to address climate change. By working together and using all the resources at our disposal, we will be able to make more progress toward our common goal of healthier, more resilient forests that benefit all Californians.”

With record-breaking levels of tree die-off, TMTF is collaborating on several fronts: public workshops about reforestation; public outreach; awarding more than $21 million in grants aimed to protect watersheds, remove dead trees and restore our forests. The TMTF collaborates on efficiently using resources to protect public safety and building consensus around long-term management strategies for our forests.

With a staggering 129 million dead trees, the work of the task force is far from over. The strong foundation will be an advantage as TMTF addresses tree mortality and its impact.

Learn about tree mortality and forest restoration on the USFS web page, Our Changing Forests.

To learn how to prepare and protect your home against wildfire and your trees against bark beetles, visit Cal Fire’s web page, Ready for Wildfire.

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