As California grapples with its fourth year of record-breaking drought conditions, millions of trees are becoming silent victims to the severe water shortage – and millions more are expected to fall. An aerial survey of the 8.2 million acres of the Sierra Nevada and other parts of Southern California by the U.S. Forest Services (USFS) revealed that roughly 12.5 million trees in the state have died already due to the drought, and the news only gets worse from there.

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Not only are many more trees expected to perish if the drought continues through the summer, but the dead trees combined with continued dry conditions will create a huge wildfire hazard that could see parts of California ablaze with raging wildfires again this year.

According to Treehugger, it isn’t necessarily a lack of water that’s killing the trees. The dry weather is making them susceptible to disease and pests like the bark beetle that has already infested 800,000 acres worth of trees in California.

Related: Scientists discover that trees yelp when they’re running out of water

Timothy Paine, entomologist at UC Riverside, told the LA Times that trees with normal amounts of water have the ability to keep the beetles in their sticky resin and have internal pressure that pushes it and the beetles out. But without water, the trees lose their ability to protect themselves and the beetles get the perfect opportunity to invade.

“If you have drought, you get large numbers of trees that are susceptible,” Paine said. “The beetles build up their populations.”

Officials say that if the drought last for another two years or more, this tree death effect could spread throughout the state–creating an omnipresent wildfire danger throughout California.

Via LA Times, Treehugger

Images via USDAgov and USFS, Flickr Creative Commons