California’s extreme drought is gobbling up yet another victim: The state’s trees.
On Friday, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency over “epidemic infestations” of bark beetles.
The beetles kill the trees, which makes everything from erosion to wildfires worse. Californians even face “safety risks” from falling trees, the governor’s office warned.
In a letter to the Department of Agriculture, Brown adds that the state is “facing the worst epidemic of tree mortality in modern history.”
The consequences of what’s happening now will be long lasting.
This year, Northern California, Alaska, and the Pacific Northwest experienced particularly devastating fires seasons, with millions of acres burned and multiple lives lost.
The drought-related bark beetle infestations make these wildfires worse by creating more dry fuel that builds up over time.
“That’s why the fire season has been so horrendous,” Patzert said. “All these dead trees burn fast and furious.”
In addition to future fires, the drought and related bark beetle problems are pushing healthier forests to higher elevations. Patzert said that while it isn’t an “apocalypse,” it is a significant change.
Millions upon millions upon millions of trees have been killed so far.
The U.S. Forest Service estimates that there are 22 million dead trees in California alone, and a spokesman for the agency told BuzzFeed News that number is likely to rise.
The dead trees are spread out across 45 million acres that the Forest Service has surveyed so far. Across the entire region, that number is likely even higher.
Patzert estimated that there could be 30 million dead trees across the West, and if Canada is included, the estimates become even more alarming.
“Who knows,” Patzert said, “maybe it’s over a hundred million dead trees.”
Bark Beetle Outbreaks
Millions of pine trees are dying in western North America, all due to a beetle about the size of a grain of rice. The mountain pine beetle uses pheromones, a chemical that attracts other mountain pine beetles, to successfully overwhelm a tree’s defenses and kill it. Dr. Ken Raffa at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Dr. Gary Blomquist at the University of Nevada, Reno are studying the beetle and how climate change is impacting its spread.
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