LOS ANGELES, CA— The U.S. Forest Service puts California’s dead tree total at more than 12 million over the past year as the multi-year drought continues unabated. The Service recently told the Los Angeles Times that the total will no doubt rise as the hot, dry summer months bring forest fires and more devastation.
Researchers took aerial surveys last month to weigh the damage created by the parched conditions on more than 8.2 million acres of forest in southern California and in parts of the southern Sierra Nevada mountain range. Dead trees accounted for almost exactly one million of those acres.
San Bernardino National Forest Rangers call them “red trees.” Instead of the typical deep green color, large areas of pine trees now show dehydrated needles turning brown and burnt-red, deep in the grips of drought.
“Unlike back East, where you have fall colors, here it’s because the trees are dying,” said John Miller, spokesman for the San Bernardino National Forest.
William Patzert, a climatologist for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory lamented the inevitable risk of summer wildfires: “The situation is incendiary.”
12.5 Million Trees Dead, Insects Making Matters Worse
“It is almost certain that millions more trees will die over the course of the upcoming summer as the drought situation continues and becomes ever more long term,” said Jeffrey Moore, acting regional aerial survey program manager for the US Forest Service.
Moore noted that trees are being impacted by more than just the drought. Bark beetles—tiny brown insects that thrive in dry conditions—chew away at the dry pines, making them brittle. If the drought doesn't kill the trees, the insects will. The Forest Service first found the red-haired bark beetle in Los Angeles County in 2004 in the cities of Newhall and Valencia.
The economic impact on life essentials of food and water are mounting. A recent study by the Center for Watershed Sciences at the University of California, Davis estimates the total agricultural loss of the California Drought will be $2.2 billion this year. According to the Forest Service, National Forests provide approximately 50% of the state's water supply, which is estimated to be worth about $9.5 billion annually. As the persistently dry weather continues, timber sources are rapidly disappearing.
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