California has more than 100 million dead trees in its forests, and there is no consensus on their impact on the environment or how to deal with them.
In November, the U.S. Forest Service said an aerial survey revealed that 36 million additional trees had died in the midst of a multi-year drought, bringing the total since 2010 to more than 102 million.
The tree deaths have been concentrated in the southern and central Sierra Nevada, but experts warn of increasing deaths in forests all the way up to the Oregon border.
“The scope and magnitude of the problem is seemingly overwhelming,” said Janet Upton, a deputy director for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE).
The phenomenon raises questions on what causes wildfires as well as the role that wildfires play in the greater ecological scheme. Officials are also grappling with logistical, financial and public safety risks associated with the removal of the trees.
According to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Brett Anderson, five years of drought in California has been the primary cause of the tree deaths. While a series of potent storms in early 2017 has alleviated the dry conditions, it has not been enough to undo the damage to the trees or to prevent the die-off from continuing.
According to some experts, the dead trees pose a major fire threat. When a lot of dead fuel remains on the ground, Upton said, fires burn hotter and damage the soil.
California residents who face risks from wildfires and dead trees can learn about how to protect themselves and their property at CAL FIRE's website.
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