Survey ups Sierra Nevada dead tree count to 66 million
By Guy McCarthy / The Union Democrat / @GuyMcCarthy
Published Jun 22, 2016 at 10:18PM
Less than a week after Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said federal handling of the tree mortality crisis hinges on adequate funding, Forest Service officials say new surveys show the number has increased to 66 million in the Sierra Nevada.
Scientists have identified an estimated 26 million more dead trees across more than 1,100 square miles in six counties, including Tuolumne County, since October 2015, according to a Forest Service announcement distributed Wednesday.
The new findings underscore the need for Congress to take action on the federal fire budget, Vilsack’s staff said, repeating what the agriculture secretary said last week in response to questions from The Union Democrat before President Barack Obama came to visit Yosemite National Park.
Four consecutive years of severe drought in California, the dramatic rise in bark beetle infestation, and warmer temperatures are leading to historic levels of tree die-off, Vilsack’s staff said.
“The sheer number of dead trees is hard to imagine, but it’s real and what we have been anticipating for some time now,” Chief Ken Pimlott, Cal Fire’s director and state forester, said Wednesday. “We must continue our work to remove dead trees around roadways and critical infrastructure, while homeowners remove dead trees around their homes.”
From 2010 to late 2015, aerial detection surveys found 40 million trees dead in the Sierra Nevada, with nearly 75 percent of that total succumbing to drought and insect mortality between September 2014 and October 2015, Forest Service staff in Vallejo said.
More recent surveys identified the additional 26 million dead trees in Tuolumne, Mariposa, Madera, Fresno, Tulare and Kern counties.
“Tree dies-offs of this magnitude are unprecedented and increase the risk of catastrophic wildfires that puts property and lives at...
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