Something Horrifying Is Happening to California's Trees

November 21st 2016

Lucy Tiven

California's years-long drought is killing off the state's tree population, The New York Times reports.

A report released Friday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture reveals that a new aerial survey found 36 million California trees had died just since May 2016.

The report comes after an extreme wildfire season in the region.

From the USDA report:

"This brings the total number of dead trees since 2010 to over 102 million on 7.7 million acres of California's drought stricken forests. In 2016 alone, 62 million trees have died, representing more than a 100 percent increase in dead trees across the state from 2015. Millions of additional trees are weakened and expected to die in the coming months and years."

The dead trees are located primarily in the Sierra Nevada region, but experts are concerned the ecological crisis could spread and reach the Oregon border.

Scientists believe the die-off is largely due to the five-year drought the state has seen, the Los Angeles Times reports.

"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," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. "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."

The drought also makes the trees more vulnerable to destruction from insects, according to the LA Times.

Scientists have linked the drought and die-off to climate change.

Some ecological experts argue we shouldn't intervene further because the wildfires and resulting tree decomposition can boost biodiversity.

“A lot of the hype seems to me a lack of understanding of the naturalness of disturbance in ecology,” University of Montana ecologist Richard Hutto told the New York Times.

California Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency over the dying tree epidemic in October 2015.

[h/t New York Times]