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California's Drought Has Killed More Than 100 Million Trees in Six Years, U.S. Forest Service Says
by Sean Breslin

California's drought is taking a toll on its trees and killing them by the millions, according to a new report released by the U.S. Forest Service.

The report, released on Friday, said 102 million trees have died in the Golden State since 2010, an increase of 36 million trees since the last aerial survey in May. The U.S. Forest Service also said some 62 million trees have died this year, and the drought has weakened many more that are expected to die in a matter of months or years.

"These dead and dying trees continue to elevate the risk of wildfire, complicate our efforts to respond safely and effectively to fires when they do occur and pose a host of threats to life and property across California," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

While most of the dead trees are found in the central and southern Sierra Nevada region, the die-off has been so widespread that it forced Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency in October 2015. A combination of a lack of water and bark beetles have been responsible for accelerating the die-off, Forest Service spokeswoman Stephanie Gomes told Buzzfeed. Under normal circumstances, the trees have a defense against these beetles, she said.

"But because of the drought, they don’t have enough water to do that," Gomes also told Buzzfeed. "And so the beetles are overcoming the trees."

The influx of dead trees creates a heightened danger for a thirsty state that's already dealing with a year-round fire season on an annual basis. But some experts say the dying trees should burn, allowing new habitats to be created, as long as it doesn't cost human lives.

"A lot of the hype seems to me a lack of understanding of the naturalness of disturbance in ecology," Richard Hutto, an ecologist at the University of Montana, told the New York Times.

That's easier said than done in a state that's as dry as California, however. With little hope for a wet winter, all signs point to a die-off that continues to accelerate, leaving firefighters with an extremely dangerous task ahead for years to come.

"This staggering and growing number of tree deaths should be concerning for everyone," Max Gomberg, climate and conservation manager at the State Water Resources Control Board, told the Los Angeles Times. "It helps us realize just how intense and extreme this drought has been — particularly for Central and Southern California."

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