Five years of drought has made most of us conscious of our water use, and more aware of rain and snow. Limitations on lawn watering and car washing may have even created some inconveniences.
But the state’s forests have suffered a significant toll during this period. Last month, the U.S. Forest Service reported that since 2010, more than 100 million trees have died from the drought and bark beetle attacks. Nearly one-third have died since May, according to the Forest Service’s aerial surveys of nearly 4.5 million acres of the state’s forest lands, almost all in Northern California.
Also, millions more trees are threatened from lack of water and insects. Until more rainfall occurs, the trees remain endangered and the number of dying trees will continue to increase.
In response, the Forest Service has moved nearly $43 million within its budget to conduct safety-focused restoration projects along roads, trails and recreation sites. The San Bernardino National Forest’s budget for fuels mitigation work has remained steady at $2.3 million, according to John Miller, public affairs officer for the forest.
The drought also makes it more difficult for the state’s pines to stave off attacks from insects, especially the bark beetle, which also has been a major contributor to the forests’ thinning. According to the Forest Service reports, “… tree health is in serious decline, often compromised by the existence of too many trees competing for limited resources, especially water.”
However, the growing number of dead trees is not significantly increasing the threat of wlldland fires, according to the Forest Service. “Typically, beetle-killed trees shed their needles within a few months of dying, so they don’t create as big a threat to fire spread as expected. However, high amounts of dead trees do present a threat of spotting when a forest fire is burning around them. Once trees fall, a fire could potentially burn longer and hotter, damaging soils and adversely affecting the site in the long-term.”
Once the beetles have infested a tree, there is little to do. But the agency is trying to improve the forest conditions by reducing competition for vital resources through expansion of its thinning programs.