- As California tackles, one of it's biggest wildfires in its history a new report claiming almost 30 million trees have died in the last 13 months bringing the total to a staggering 129 million
- In Colorada, it's worse nearly one in every 14 standing trees is dead with an astonishing estimated 834 million dead trees
The dead trees continue to pose a hazard to people and critical infrastructure, mostly centred in the central and southern Sierra Nevada region of the state.
"The number of dead and dying trees has continued to rise, along with the risks to communities and firefighters if a wildfire breaks out in these areas," said Randy Moore, Regional Forester of the U.S. Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Region.
"It is apparent from our survey flights this year that California's trees have not yet recovered from the drought, and remain vulnerable to beetle attacks and increased wildfire threat.
The Forest Service will continue to focus on mitigating hazard trees and thinning overly dense forests so they are healthier and better able to survive stressors like this in the future.
"To increase the pace and scale of this important work, we need to fix how fire suppression is funded. Last year fire management alone consumed 56 percent of the Forest Service's national budget.
As fire suppression costs continue to grow as a percentage of the Forest Service's budget, funding is shrinking for non-fire programs that protect watersheds and restore forests, making them more resilient to wildfire and drought."
Though California received record-breaking rains in the winter of 2016-2017, the effects of five consecutive years of severe drought in California, a dramatic rise in bark beetle infestation and rising temperatures have led to historic levels of tree die-off.
The Tree Mortality Task Force, with support from the Governor's office and comprised of more than 80 local, state and federal agencies and private utility companies, continues to remove hazardous dead trees.
To date, the TMTF members have collectively felled or removed over 860,000 dead trees; this includes over 480,000 dead trees felled or removed by the U.S. Forest Service.
The TMTF members are using a triage approach to this tree mortality crisis, first focusing on public safety by removing dead and dying trees in high hazard areas.
To further improve forest health, the U.S Forest Service and CAL FIRE have increased their pace and scale of prescribed fire.
The U.S. Forest Service has treated over 55,000 acres and CAL FIRE has completed over 33,000 acres in fuel treatment projects.
By combining tree removal with prescribed fire, crews will be able to decrease overly dense stands of trees, reduce greenhouse gases, and protect communities across the state.
"Tree mortality at this magnitude takes on-going cooperation between public, non-profit and private entities," said Chief Ken Pimlott, CAL FIRE director and California's state forester.
"California's forests are a critical part of the State's strategy to address climate change.
By working together and using all the resources at our disposal we will be able to make more progress towards our common goal of healthier, more resilient forests that benefit all Californians." With record-breaking levels of tree die-off, the TMTF has used this event as an opportunity to collaborate on several fronts: from public workshops about reforestation, public outreach in urban and rural areas, and awarding over $21 million in grants aimed to protect watersheds, remove dead trees and restore our forests.
The TMTF continues to collaborate on the efficient use of resources to protect public safety and build consensus around long-term management strategies for California's forest lands.
"The Tree Mortality Taskforce has provided an essential venue for coordination of response efforts, exchange of ideas, reporting, and accountability for the ongoing statewide response to this incident," said Supervisor Nathan Magsig of Fresno County.
"Leadership from the Governor's Office, CAL FIRE and Office of Emergency Services has helped to ensure county issues are heard and addressed.
Monthly coordination of the 10 most impacted counties has resulted in a more effective use of resources and has allowed counties to share ideas and successes."
With a staggering 129 million dead trees in the state, the work of the task force is far from over.
The strong foundation built will continue to be an advantage as the TMTF continues to address tree mortality and its impacts.
Astonishing facts! Nearly 1,000 million trees in Colorado dead: Nearly one in every 14 standing trees! A casualty rate of 30% in the last 7 years Nearly one in every 14 standing trees in Colorado forests is dead, according to the latest report on the health of the state's wooded areas.
The study, released in February this year by Colorado State Forest Service out of Colorado State University, calculated an estimated 834 million dead trees, many of them succumbing to two beetle epidemics. That's a tree casualty increase of almost 30 percent in the last seven years.
Summit County, on the White River National Forest, was a forest system hit extremely hard by the decades-long mountain pine beetle infestation.
Scores of lodgepole in the Dillon Ranger District remain in need of treatment.
That leaves the region at risk of significant fire danger.
The new report notes that nearly 3.4 million acres across the state are affected by the pine beetle - 143,000 acres of it in Summit dating to 1996.
Eagle County has lost 194,000 acres to the mountain pine beetle in that same span, and Routt saw 345,000 acres of logdepole destroyed.
The spruce beetle, meanwhile, has not been particularly impactful in Summit, taking out 1,600 acres of Engelmann spruce just below treeline in the last two decades and just 80 acres in 2016.
Eagle has lost 6,300 acres since '96, compared to 85,000 acres consumed in Routt.
The bug, which is still active, has been much more of a problem in the southwestern portion of the state, especially in the San Juans, but experts say Summit could still be next.
"We first saw it south of Breckenridge in 2015, and last year we've also seen it but in really low intensity," said Dan West, forest entomologist with the Colorado State Forest Service.
REPORT ON THE HEALTH OF COLORADO’S FORESTS