Drought-stricken California is now facing another dire problem: dying trees. The U.S. Forest Service just reported that 102 million California trees have perished due to the drought, and 62 million trees died just in 2016. Officials fear the dead, dry trees could act as kindling as California battles more extreme fire seasons.
The number of dead trees in California has increased by 100 percent from 2015, according to the USFS. Lifeless trees can be found across 7.7 million acres, and millions more trees are weak and expected to fall victim to drought. But it’s not just the drought alone that’s massacring trees; climate change and bark beetles have also played a role. The USFS said higher temperatures and a spike in beetle infestation have killed off trees too.
United States Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said in a statement, “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.” He called for a better budget to not only fight wildfires but also to work towards tree health and restoration.
The USFS often has to redirect funds away from restoration work to fight fires, said Vilsack, and without Congress fixing the fire budget, the agency won’t be able to break that devastating cycle. 56 percent of the USFS budget in 2015 went up in flames, consumed by fire management, and the agency expects that by 2025, 67 percent of their funds will go towards fighting fires.
California has grappled with drought for five years now, and the USFS reports the state’s wildfire season has only stretched longer and become more severe. Scientists predict in 2017 still more trees will fall victim to harsh, dry conditions in the state.