The U.S. Forest Service announced that it has identified an additional 26 million trees dead in California since October 2015. These trees are located in six counties across 760,000 acres in the southern Sierra Nevada region of the state, and are in addition to the 40 million trees that died statewide from 2010 to October 2015, bringing the total to at least 66 million dead trees. Four consecutive years of severe drought in California, a dramatic rise in bark beetle infestation and warmer temperatures are leading to historic levels of tree die-off.
"Tree dies-offs of this magnitude are unprecedented and increase the risk of catastrophic wildfires that puts property and lives at risk," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "While the fire risk is currently the most extreme in California because of the tree mortality, forests across the country are at risk of wildfire and urgently need restoration requiring a massive effort to remove this tinder and improve their health. Unfortunately, unless Congress acts now to address how we pay for firefighting, the Forest Service will not have the resources necessary to address the forest die-off and restore our forests. Forcing the Forest Service to pay for massive wildfire disasters out of its pre-existing fixed budget instead of from an emergency fund like all other natural disasters means there is not enough money left to do the very work that would help restore these high mortality areas. We must fund wildfire suppression like other natural disasters in the country."
Between 2010 and late 2015, Forest Service aerial detection surveys found that 40 million trees died across California – with nearly three quarters of that total succumbing to drought and insect mortality from September 2014 to October 2015 alone. The survey identified approximately 26 million additional dead trees since the last inventory in October, 2015.
With the increasing size and costs of suppressing wildfires due to climate change and other factors, the very efforts that would protect watersheds and restore forests to make them more resilient to fire in the future are being squeezed out of the budget. Last year fire management alone consumed 56 percent of the Forest Service's budget.
Learn more about tree mortality and the USDA Forest Service work to restore forests in California at Our Changing Forests.
Learn about CAL FIRE's work to protect forest health in California's Forest Action Plan.