Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Forest tree health crisis, California

US Forest Service News Release, 11/18/16, "New aerial survey identifies more than 100 million dead trees in California."

VALLEJO, CA. "The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced today that the U.S. Forest Service has identified an additional 36 million dead trees across California since its last aerial survey in May 2016. This brings the total number of dead trees since 2010 to over 102 million on 7.7 million acres of California’s drought stricken forests. In 2016 alone, 62 million trees have died, representing more than a 100 percent increase in dead trees across the state from 2015. Millions of additional trees are weakened and expected to die in the coming months and years.

California to fire up burners to battle dead tree epidemic
Thinning and cleaning the forest is part of the
answer as is replanting. Funding is insufficient.
Image result for dying forests in California pictureWith public safety as its most pressing concern, the U.S. Forest Service has committed significant resources to help impacted forests, including reprioritizing $43 million in California in fiscal year 2016 to conduct safety-focused restoration along roads, trails and recreation sites. However, limited resources and a changing climate hamper the Forest Service's ability to address tree mortality in California. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Forest Service officials are seriously hampered not only by short-term budgets passed by Congress, but also a broken budget for the Forest Service that sees an increasing amount of resources going to firefighting while less is invested in restoration and forest health, said Vilsack.

"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,” said Vilsack. “USDA has made restoration work and the removal of excess fuels a top priority, but until Congress passes a permanent fix to the fire budget, we can’t break this cycle of diverting funds away from restoration work  to fight the immediate threat of the large unpredictable fires caused by the fuel buildups themselves.”

Image result for dying forests in California pictureImage result for dying forests in California pictureThe majority of the 102 million dead trees are located in ten counties in the southern and central Sierra Nevada region. The Forest Service also identified increasing mortality in the northern part of the state, including Siskiyou, Modoc, Plumas and Lassen counties.  Five consecutive years of severe drought in California, a dramatic rise in bark beetle infestation and warmer temperatures are leading to these historic levels of tree die-off. As a result, in October 2015 California Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency on the unprecedented tree die-off and formed a Tree Mortality Task Force to help mobilize additional resources for the safe removal of dead and dying trees."  Read more.
Related drought condition affect on trees article.  NPR/Science/Christopher Joyce, 10/27/16, "How is a 1600-Year-Old Tree Weathering California's Drought?" "It's been a brutal forest fire season in California. But there's actually a greater threat to California's trees — the state's record-setting drought. The lack of water has killed at least 60 million trees in the past four years. Scientists are struggling to understand which trees are most vulnerable to drought and how to keep the survivors alive. To that end, they're sending human climbers and flying drones into the treetops, in a novel biological experiment. From a distance, the forests of the Sierra Nevada look blotchy, with patches of dead trees standing right next to healthy green ones. Nate Stephenson, an ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, says the drought and high heat combine to do things he hasn't seen before. "We don't really understand a lot of things," he says, "like exactly how a drought kills a tree, or what's going on underground. Where is the water flowing in areas we can't see?"....  Understanding how different species of trees respond is already helping scientists focus their rescue efforts. For starters, you might thin the forest in places, removing some small trees and underbrush, Stephenson says. Having fewer straws sucking water out of the ground, means more water, more light and more nutrients for the biggest trees in the landscape, he says. And that would help the survivors weather future environmental stresses." 

Related dead tree clean-up article. Los Angeles Times/Thomas Curwen, Contract Reporter, 12/14/16, "The 102 million dead trees in California's forests are turning tree cutters into millionaires."  The following is a shaggy article, but makes the point that trees are getting thinned (dead trees are getting cut down and removed). ...."Estimates by the U.S. Forest Service put the number of dead trees in California forests at 102 million, broad swaths that officials call a wildfire and public safety risk. Declaring a state of emergency last fall when the count stood at 40 million, Gov. Jerry Brown ordered state agencies to clear the hazards. .... The die-off has hit the southern half of the Sierra Nevada range — Fresno and Tulare counties — especially hard. The Forest Service estimates more than 24 million trees in this region are dead, and getting rid of them has become both a problem and an opportunity. “There is a Gold Rush for those of us who are willing to bust ass,” says Kant, who charges $1,700 a day for his services. Kant, 49, owns the Huntington Lake Tree Service, one of more than two dozen outfits working along California 168 that begins just east of Fresno and ends at Huntington Lake, elevation 7,000 feet. Since first arriving in these mountains in 1997 — and starting a firewood company 15 years ago — Kant has watched as drought, beetle infestation and warming temperatures, all symptoms of climate change, have transformed the mountains he loves. “I used to think that nothing could affect us in the forest, but between the fires and the drought, the forest is hurting,” he says. ---- Today, he and his crews are rushing to beat the approach of winter when storms and snowfall shut down the higher elevations and the income that this disaster has delivered to them, one tree at a time."

Note photographs. Left: Firefighters remove dead trees, near Cressman, CA, by Scott Smith from Phys Org/Scott Smith, 6/19/16,"California to fire up burners to battle dead tree epidemic." Arborist carrying away cut stump by Lindsey Hoshaw, from KQED (Bay Area) Science/Drought Watch, 9/28/15, "Dought-Weakened Trees Could Pose Danger This Winter."  Right: Forest near lake image by Craig Kohlruss, Sierra Nevada Forest, from The Sacramento Bee/Ryan Sabalow, 6/22/16, "Forest Service: Staggering 66 million dead trees in California." Row of trees by Craig Kohlruss, San Bernardino National Forest near Lake Arrowhead, from SF Gate/Amy Graff, 5/4/16, "29 million trees dead from bark beetle infestation pose fire risk in California."

Posted by Kathy Meeh 

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