Millions of dead trees may contribute to wildfires in California

Millions of dead trees may contribute to wildfires in California

The record number of dead trees in drought-hit California’s Sierra Nevada forests is raising fears that they will contribute to catastrophic wildfires and endanger people’s lives, Forest Service officials warned earlier this week.

The state’s years-long drought, warmer temperatures and a bark beetle epidemic have left millions of tree dead over the past few years. These dead, dried trees help wildfires grow fast and make them hard to be tackled by firefighters.

According to stats released by the United States Forest Service, an estimated 66 million trees have died in the central and southern parts of Sierra since 2010. The mortality rate from Tuolumne to Kern counties has jumped 65 per cent since the last count announced in October 2015, when nearly 40 million trees were found dead.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has urged the Congress to invest more funds in managing forests in California and other parts of the nation to avoid a looming disaster.

Volsack said in a prepared statement, “Tree die-offs of this magnitude are unprecedented and increase the risk of catastrophic wildfires that puts property and lives at risk. We must fund wildfire suppression like other natural disasters in the country.”

California has been in the grip of drought for the last five years, which officials say has deprived trees of water, making them more vulnerable to attack from deadly beetles.

The U.S. Forest Service has already set aside $32 million to fight back California’s epidemic, and the state government committed another $11 million to support efforts like buying tree removal equipment. Thus far, the Forest Service has cut down 77,000 trees along roads and near communities that were posing the greatest risk to people.