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United States Earth Science

One Third of California's Trees Are Dead (sfgate.com) 393

"There are about 21 million acres of trees spread across California's 18 national forests, and the latest figures show 7.7 million of them -- more than one-third -- are dead." An anonymous reader quotes the San Francisco Chronicle: California's lingering drought has pushed the number of dead trees across the state past 100 million, an ecological event experts are calling dangerous and unprecedented in underlining the heightened risk of wildfires fueled by bone-dry forests. In its latest aerial survey released Friday, the U.S. Forest Service said 62 million trees have died this year in California, bringing the six-year total to more than 102 million.

Scientists blame five-plus years of drought on the increasing tree deaths -- tree "fatalities" increased by 100 percent in 2016 -- but the rate of their demise has been much faster than expected, increasing the risk of ecologically damaging erosion and wildfires even bigger than the largest blazes the state's seen this year.

An ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey says that on the bright side, this gives scientists a good chance to study how trees die.
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One Third of California's Trees Are Dead

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  • Okay... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Rei ( 128717 ) on Sunday November 20, 2016 @07:19PM (#53328599) Homepage

    Scientists blame five-plus years of drought on the increasing tree deaths

    Next up: lung cancer causes smoking!

    • Scientists blame five-plus years of drought on the increasing tree deaths

      Next up: lung cancer causes smoking!

      It's not entirely silly written backward like that. Trees transpire a lot of water from the ground into the air, where it later falls as rain downwind (or uphill, where it can then fall as rain (or snow, becoming snowpack) and feed rivers that flow back upwind, to repeat the cycle.)

      Not enough to account for the drought, though. But nonzero nonetheless. B-)

      Also, grass would do it far more than tree

  • by SeaFox ( 739806 ) on Sunday November 20, 2016 @07:27PM (#53328655)

    As long as Nestle is still getting their water [sbsun.com], who cares if the trees gets theirs.

  • How many trees are normally dead? There are lots of dead trees in any forest.
    • Re:What is the norm? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by hey! ( 33014 ) on Sunday November 20, 2016 @08:19PM (#53328903) Homepage Journal

      Sure there are always some dead trees in a forest, as anyone who's ever hunted or rambled in a forest knows. But one out of three? And from drought? It's not normal for the historical period.

      However... There have been prehistoric droughts in California lasting decades, even centuries. Since we know this from tree rings, we know some rain must have fallen, but less than we are accustomed to as "normal" in historic times. These have been correlated to "radiative forcing", natural climate change mechanisms such as variations in the Earth's orbit and volcanic activity. Warmer Earth == drier California.

  • by Hadlock ( 143607 ) on Sunday November 20, 2016 @07:49PM (#53328779) Homepage Journal

    It's interesting that these reports are always released on rainy days (Which are pretty rare in SF actually)
     
    Yes if you go up to Mt. Lassen it really probably is 1 in 3 trees. Certainly 1 in 10. If anything though, this is natural selection in progress; the only way to produce drought-resistant species is to have a serious drought, a big fire to clear out all the dead species, and then re-seed them with the drought resistant ones. If anything this is a good, big step forward for California over the long term in destroying the less viable/invasive species.

    • The summary doesn't mention it, but a huge factor is the bark beetle infestation going across California right now.
    • by Xyrus ( 755017 ) on Monday November 21, 2016 @02:56AM (#53330221) Journal

      If droughts were a regular feature in that part of the world, then THE FUCKING TREES WOULDN'T BE DYING FROM IT. They would have already evolved to deal with it. But species that are NATIVE to the afflicted regions are dying off IN DROVES. That means they are NOT adapted, which implies that such events are rare at best, hence why they are DYING.

      No, it's not a good thing.

      • To be fair, actually, most of the trees dying in California are not natives, at least not in that location. Most of the places with lots of pines on them now used to be full of something else. For instance, in Lake County, CA the land was covered with redwoods up to the ridgeline between here and hopland, and oaks thereafter. First, there was a lot of slash and burn to create cattle land. Then, the federal government paid $1 for each black walnut tree planted, as an inducement to the settlers to destroy the oaks that the natives depended on for food. The walnuts have never been an economic benefit to the region, although some people grafted a more desirable variety onto the stumps of some of their trees and have been able to make a little money.

        Droughts are a regular feature in California, and the trees are dying from it because they are in areas where they're not supposed to be, and because redwoods dramatically alter climate, and they are missing.

      • If droughts were a regular feature in that part of the world, then THE FUCKING TREES WOULDN'T BE DYING FROM IT. They would have already evolved to deal with it. But species that are NATIVE to the afflicted regions are dying off IN DROVES. That means they are NOT adapted, which implies that such events are rare at best, hence why they are DYING.

        No, it's not a good thing.

        The problem with that theory is that the tree mix in California is not what it historically used to be. California used to be mostly Black Oaks and other deciduous trees intermixed with some conifers - douglas firs, etc. At least, that was the case in the Sierra Nevada foothills and lower elevations. If you go there now, you'll rarely see any oak trees - they were all cut down in the 1800s. The conifers were blocked out by the oaks and, since oaks take up more space, there were fewer trees in the same l

  • by houghi ( 78078 ) on Sunday November 20, 2016 @07:55PM (#53328801)

    I am going to support them financially by buying as much almonds as I can.

  • They just need a hug. That should be no problem in California. ;)
  • by Anonymous Coward

    If I'm reading this correctly, then:

    2016 - 62mil
    2015 - 31mil
    2010-14 - 9 mil

    I'm not sure this is 'much faster than expected' so much as 'Holy Crap we have a problem'.

    As a non-biologist I'd tend to assume that:
    1. Fires are going to get ugly when all that new dead biomass starts to dry out in a year or so.
    2. Mycorrhizal nets are going to be stunted, probably exacerbating the situation.

  • I live in the California Sierras with 100' foot Pondarosa Pines in my backyard. I fly and drive all around. I'm seeing a few dead trees, but nothing like 1/3.

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