California has been suffering from a drought, and while that may not be news, the devastating effect it is having on the landscape is. Trees located in the state’s drought-stricken forests are dying at what can only be called an unprecedented rate. According to the U.S. Forest Service, as of November 2016 102 million trees have died in the last six years including the 62 million that were lost this year alone.
What’s even worse is that they appear to show no signs of slowing down. Millions of trees have been weakened from the consistent drought and they are expected to die off in the coming years, some in the next few months. This rapid tree death is practically unheard of in modern history, this is a rate that surpasses any speed the Forest Service could have ever predicted. The report from the United States Department of Agriculture giving all the facts and figures can be found here.
The primary cause of tree death is the severe drought that has dragged on for five consecutive years. Other factors that have affected the trees include the states fire suppression policies, land development, and the unusually hot and dry weather that causes a strain on the trees and makes them more likely to suffer injury, bug attacks, and injuries.
The dead trees are dried out and in the hot and dry weather, they now pose a new threat, wildfires. As the drought lingers, the chances of wildfires increase and fires can also mean the loss of more trees that are otherwise healthy. This year has seen the state fighting record numbers of wildfires, The Blue Cut fire scorched over 30,000 acres of the state alone.
While the loss of more trees from fires would be devastating, there are even bigger problems. As fires become more frequent, fighting them puts a strain on federal resources. In California, last year’s budget included 56 percent of their federal funding to fire management. It is expected to rise to 67 percent by 2025 if things don’t change.
What’s even worse is that a study published last month by researchers from the University of Washington found a larger scale impact from such high volume of vegetation death. It is likely that tree loss of this magnitude can significantly impact climate patters globally, even alter vegetation across the globe. Suddenly, a few dead trees takes on a whole new meaning as we wait to discover what side effects can be found around the world from the devastating tree loss in California.